By Paul Rowley
For The Beachcomber
Linda Bianchi, an island real estate agent at Windermere Vashon, recalls how she and her husband, Dick, determined 20 years ago that they wanted to do more to address food insecurity on Vashon.
They were inspired, as the owners of Windermere Vashon and members of Vashon’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, to do something to help island residents who were struggling to put food on the table during the holidays.
They dubbed their campaign “the Basket Brigade,” held each November to provide many of the things these families would need to prepare their own fresh, nutritious Thanksgiving meal.
The Basket Brigade lives on at St. Vincent de Paul and Windermere’s Vashon office today: the Vashon chapter of St. Vincent de Paul identified 10 island families this year, and volunteers will deliver the assorted goods to them in time for Thanksgiving.
“Every year since the beginning, we have provided full Thanksgiving dinners, including candles, napkins, tablecloths and grocery gift certificates for multiple island families,” Bianchi said.
She said the efforts have been made possible by the generosity of Vashon Thriftway and Vashon Market IGA — each year, the stores donate turkeys and pies for the cause, as well as the members of St. Vincent de Paul for delivering the meal kits to families in need.
Each year, the brokers and staff of Windermere Vashon — now owned by Beth and John de Groen — volunteer to collect donations in front of the island’s grocery stores the weekend before Thanksgiving. They were there last weekend, Saturday, Nov. 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside of Thriftway.
The collected goods are then sorted, and baskets are prepared and decorated for distribution. The Windermere Foundation, which uses a portion of every Windermere agent’s commission to help low-income and homeless families, provides additional funds to supplement the purchase of grocery gift certificates or assistance with acquiring food, and any leftover food is donated to the Vashon Food Bank.
In 2019, in a show of the island’s generosity, donations from the community far exceeded the initial need, resulting in an additional 500 pounds of food being donated to the food bank. Food Bank services are now used by at least one out of every seven households on Vashon, and the organization has had to expand its operations and workspace in recent months, owing to an increased demand brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sue Stinson, a Windermere Vashon realtor who started as Windermere’s marketing manager in 2015, was tasked with directing the Basket Brigade campaign at the time. She is still heavily active in arranging each year’s collecting drive. Because it is such an important time of year, Stinson said, she is mindful of how she can help families in need have access to the components that, brought together, make holiday magic, just as her own family has enjoyed in the past.
“Hunger is a huge concern in America and an empty stomach often comes with an emotional emptiness as well,” she said, adding that the amount of food and money donated for the Basket Brigade each year makes her proud to be an islander.
“As a broker, I am happy to once again coordinate this year’s Basket Brigade,” Stinson said. “The brokers and staff in our office quickly and willingly jump in to help with the duties necessary for this effort. As we all know, it takes an island.”
Windermere Vashon is a family-owned real estate firm that has been serving the island since 1948. In addition to the Foundation contributions, the Windermere Vashon office donates more than $20,000 annually to the local island community through charitable contributions and donations.