“It started out as people [recipients] from the parish … and it just grew from there,” said Men’s Club member Joe Dembek. He and his family began delivering baskets in the mid 1990’s. He recalls, as many other do, John “Jay” Swauger’s impassioned appeals to ensure the baskets and the right families were served.
“It’s been tough trying to fill his shoes,” Dembek said. “He always seemed to come back with someone who needed a coat or something.” Swauger, and many others who helped propel the program over the years, have passed away. But their efforts endure in the hearts of all who keep it going.
Because of the scale, preparations begin months in advance — ordering food in mid-September as a leap of faith the bill will be paid. Men take Basket Week off from work to help and others donate their labor to fix up big-ticket toys such as bicycles. The Women of St. Philip help to gather and sort toys and coats.
The basket sorting, wrapping, packing and delivering is a weeklong family-centered festivity touching all. Children help wrap, others join in song as nursing homes are visited and family members come home to Franklin to help deliver the baskets and gifts.