A local family gathered up enough resources and supplies to give out 211 Thanksgiving meals in its own “Thanksgiving in a Basket” program.
Amber Ogle, the clan’s matriarch, has been leading her family in the self-initiated program for nine years now.
Now with seven children, ranging in age from 1 to 18, the Ogles have striven to become a beacon of hope for the holiday season in the area.
To make the program possible, the Ogles host a party at their house where they serve up comfort food in the form of chilli and macaroni and cheese. The parties used to be in person, but in recent years, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the parties have been hosted in a drive-thru format outdoors.
“The community would come,” Ogle said. “They would drive up and eat some yummy food, maybe have a drink, and then they would give us a donation and leave. We went from the first year with three baskets, to now — nine years later — and we were able to feed 211 families from top to bottom.”
She said the baskets include all the common fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner like packets of gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, green bean casserole and a turkey or ham, among other offerings.
The parties garnered food donations, and also gifts of money for the Ogles to later use to shop for the meals.
The Ogels, who have an Olympia address, though they are zoned for Yelm Community Schools, began by gifting the baskets to the Family Support Center in downtown Olympia.
The organization would help them identify the families that were in need for the holidays, and the Ogles would give to as many people as they had baskets for.
The Family Support Center received 110 baskets from the Ogles this year alone.
“Then we took 101 meals, and drove a Uhaul all the way to Yelm and I just put a post out on the Yelm (social media) page that if there are any families in need, that it was first-come, first-served, and they were gone in like 30 minutes,” Ogle said.
The Ogles held this year’s fundraising party the Saturday before Thanksgiving, on Nov. 20. On Sunday, Nov. 21, they put together as many baskets as they could, so that on Monday, Nov. 22 they could shop for however many baskets they could build with the remainder of the donations they had.
Later that day, they made an assembly line and loaded up all of the baskets. And then on Tuesday, Nov. 23, they delivered the first portion of the baskets to the Family Support Center, and then headed to Yelm with the rest. Only after all the food was handed out — on Wednesday, Nov. 24 — did the Ogles shop for their own Thanksgiving meal.
Ogle said she and her husband have a soft spot for Yelm, because they are coaches with the Thurston County Youth Football League Yelm Tornados. Ogle works with the cheerleading program and her husband coaches the football teams.
She said there was a traffic jam of people trying to get their meals when the family finally made it to Yelm on distribution day.
“It was crazy, but it was all so rewarding,” Ogle said. “The people were great and always gracious and grateful and it’s an awesome thing.”
She said all the stories she hears from the beneficiaries of the baskets warm her heart each year as she is contacted by the families that benefited from the free meals.
“We have a family that … came and got a meal,” Ogle said. “It wasn’t for her necessarily, but for her neighbor. It was an older gentleman and his wife had just died. He had never learned how to cook.”
Ogle said the neighbor picked up the food, cooked it and then went over to his house to ensure he had a holiday meal.
“They also spent it with him to make sure he wasn’t alone for the first year his wife had died,” she said.
Ogle said the stories just keep on rolling out of the community, like one from a woman who recently moved to Yelm.
The woman had received a meal five years prior from the Family Support Center’s distribution of the baskets. She had been living in a tent at the time. Fast-forward five years, and the woman has received a basket each year, but with each passing year, she was able to make one more step toward her family’s stability.
Now, the woman lives and works in Yelm. She still needed a basket this year, but the woman told Ogle that the meal she received for each Thanksgiving reinforced her positive momentum in life.
“It moves me to tears,” Ogle said. “Just talking about it … makes me feel like I’m going to cry my eyes out. It’s just knowing that we made a difference in somebody’s life.
“These baskets hold much more than, obviously, food,” Ogle said. “These baskets are powerhouse-hope holders. They give hope and they give togetherness and they give love. It’s just knowing that people care about them, because essentially, we all want to be cared about, and hope is the main vitamin in our lives.”
She added that none of their efforts would be possible without the support of the community.
“We all came together to help other people and I think that’s just the way you are supposed to live your life anyway,” Ogle said.
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