May 25, 2019  

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USM Students Coordinate Annual Thanksgiving Golden Basket Drive for Coast Families

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Teams consisting of USM students, faculty and staff provide all of the items for a Thanksgiving dinner, as well as holiday presents and other items for the family, such as clothing, shoes and personal hygiene items as part of the Golden Basket program.

Students, faculty and staff from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Gulf Park campus presented Thanksgiving Golden Baskets and one car to 25 needy Mississippi Gulf Coast families on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

The Thanksgiving Golden Basket Drive is an annual event coordinated by USM students in the Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) Club, which is based on the University’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach.

Golden Basket recipients are deemed to be among the least food secure by social workers at Head Start agencies located in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. Teams consisting of USM students, faculty and staff provide all of the items for a Thanksgiving dinner, as well as holiday presents and other items for the family, such as clothing, shoes and personal hygiene items. 

“I never feel prouder than I do each year at this event, when I get to see the culmination of the hard work and commitment of our students. They put significant effort toward providing food, clothing and so much more to some of the least food secure families right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Karen Aderer, LCSW and Clinical Instructor in the School of Social Work and BSW Club advisor.

The project was conceptualized in 2011, when a student in the Bachelor’s of Social Work program working at a local Head Start saw a need to provide a Thanksgiving meal to a family who lacked food security. In 2012, Aderer formalized the project, leading each of the four cohorts of Social Work students – pre-Social Work, juniors, seniors and master’s students, as well as the social work faculty – to each adopt a family.

Aderer added, “I am extremely happy to be a part of this Coast community and to work with our students, faculty and staff here on the Gulf Park campus who made this year’s event the largest to date.”

In 2017, the project was expanded to support more than two dozen families, which were adopted by social work cohorts, various USM departments and units, as well as a local company who wanted to get involved in the project.

Selected families may also have transportation issues, or have experienced a recent adverse life event such as a fire, loss of job, or eviction.

“The Golden Basket event is so much more than just raising funds and resources for a family, it is, in and of itself changing for all involved,” said Sidney Smith, USM student and president of the BSW Club. “It is a perfect event, timed during a perfect season designed to illustrate our humanity.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 21, Golden Basket items were gathered and staged in the Hardy Hall Ballroom on the Gulf Park campus, where participating teams had an opportunity to display items prior to delivery.

USM students and employees were able to view the collected items and place a vote for one participating team to win a People’s Choice Award for their creativity, organization, and abundance of items. Local community leaders served as celebrity judges for the event, selecting one participating team as the Judges’ Choice winner for the event. City of Long Beach Mayor George Bass, business leader Butch Oustalet, and Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania served as celebrity judges.

“I was invited to be a judge for the Golden Basket event, and my initial thought was wicker baskets filled with food. When I pulled into the parking lot, I was completely blown away when I saw a car designated for one of the families that had been filled with clothing, food and toys,” said City of Long Beach Mayor George Bass.

The Judges’ Choice Award was presented to Team NDORI, comprised of USM student Michelle Jara, as well as Jacob Jara and Emily Foret. The People’s Choice Award was presented to the Pre-Social Work student cohort, represented by Kimberly Richmond.

The Judges Choice Award winner, Team NDORI, secured a donation of a 2004 Infinity FX35 SUV, which the team filled with food, clothing, toys and gift cards for their adopted family. Team NDORI also secured an adult bed and baby bed for their adopted family.

When asked about the future of the project Aderer said, “My hope is that as word spreads, we will have more and more groups within the university who want to adopt a family and more and more community partners who want to donate or adopt a family of their own. My ultimate goal is that participation in this event instills in our students a lifelong desire to be involved in charitable works in our community and elsewhere.”