Catonsville residents and other supporters from throughout Baltimore County came together on the evening of Nov. 16 at State Fare restaurant on Frederick Road to support local families in need for the second annual Blessing Baskets giveaway.
Ellie McIntire, owner of EPIK Home Group and founder of the event, said 119 baskets were donated, along with several coats.
The food drive was first held last year when McIntire, a local realtor who runs the Catonsville Facebook page and group, reached out to clients, colleagues and friends, and asked them to help out the community. The ask was simple: fill a laundry basket with non-perishable food items for a Thanksgiving meal.
“I knew there were people in our area who were food insecure so I put out a call to the community and said, ‘Hey, can you put Thanksgiving dinner in one basket?’ We received 98 baskets,” McIntire said.
This year, people brought large wicker baskets, plastic storage tubs, boxes and crates, filled with food; other items for a Thanksgiving meal such as aluminum cooking pans, paper plates and holiday napkins; household items such as detergent, toiletries, socks and blankets; and even pet food.
Some baskets are creatively decorated, others include personal notes of well wishes and artwork made by children; most are overflowing with items. One person came from Phoenix in northern Baltimore County with their donation.
“It’s amazing,” McIntire said.
The baskets were distributed on Nov. 17 to families at five Catonsville schools. The families were selected from recommendations by counselors and principals, and from those that take extra bags of food at the schools’ Friday food distribution, said Kate Jaudon, a teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School.
“We have some ways we can help them with at school,” Jaudon said, referencing counseling and similar resources for students and families. “But we can’t help with the extra things they need, so this is a huge support for us.”
Jaudon, a Catonsville resident, also donated a basket. “As a teacher, I see the need every day,” she said. “We know these baskets are going to people who truly need it.”
The McQuirk family - husband Matthew, wife Jenna and their boys, Luke, 6, and Brody, 3 - hung around after dropping off their basket to look at the other baskets and for the boys to talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Jenna McQuirk said their basket was “a neighborhood collaboration,” with contributions from neighbors, which McIntire said was the case with several of the baskets. Both Jenna and Matthew McQuirk said it was important for their boys to participate in the giving and had the boys help pack the basket.
“We try to teach them the point of giving,” Matthew McQuirk said. “This is our neighborhood and we like to be involved.”
Those who donated two or more baskets received one of 50 Ravens footballs signed by Ravens tight end Mark Andrews. McIntire said she reached out to Andrews’ mom to ask him for the contribution.
For last year’s giveaway, she contacted Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser’s mom for signed footballs, and she’s already thinking ahead to 2023 giveaway.
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“I’m hoping to get to Justin Tucker’s mom next year,” said McIntire, sporting a Ravens jersey while bouncing around the enclosed patio thanking people for their contributions.
State Fare also gave those who dropped off their donations a discount on their meal that evening.
A few decorated Jeeps were parked outside of the restaurant to attract attention to the event. Catonsville resident Larry Acord rallied members of several Jeep clubs in the area that he belongs to, which came out in support of the giveaway. Acord purchased his Catonsville home with McIntire’s help and he’s supported the giveaway from its start.
“The Jeep community really loves getting involved in things like this,” Acord said.
During the collection night, Acord plotted out on a map the route for the third annual Jeep Christmas parade and giveaway on Dec. 17, sticking pins on streets where donors live as they brought their baskets. The neighborhood with the most donations will get a special visit during the parade, when the Jeep owners will also be stopping by the Children’s Home to hand out gift cards from local businesses, he said.
Asha Smith of Arbutus brought her yellow 2021 Jeep Wrangler, aptly nicknamed “Big Bird,” to the event. Smith said that it was important for her just to show up and bring awareness to the food drive.
“A lot of people are struggling,” Smith said, “but it’s still important for people to spend time with family at Thanksgiving.”