Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sydney Basket Brigade Packing Day

One Thanksgiving Day many years ago, a young family awoke not with a sense of gratitude many associate with the holiday but with a preoccupation of where its next meal would come from. Too proud to contact a local charity and too frustrated to celebrate the gift of togetherness, the parents lashed out at each other, turning the holiday into a day of devastation. The oldest son could do nothing but watch in despair. 

Then, destiny intervened with an unexpected knock at the door. The family was stunned to find a man standing there, grinning broadly and carrying a huge basket brimming with Thanksgiving delights.

In that moment, this young boy's life was forever changed. He learned with this simple act of kindness that hope is eternal and that people, even strangers, really do care. He was overwhelmed with gratitude and swore that he would someday become successful enough to give something back to others.

On Thanksgiving some years later, the boy, just 18, went with his scant earnings to begin to fulfill that promise. He bought bags and bags of groceries and delivered them to a woman with six children whose father had abandoned them. The woman was elated, and the children shrieked with delight.

The young man was moved to tears. In that moment, he realised that his horrible day years ago was actually a gift that had brought him the fulfillment he now felt, and he knew with absolute certainty that whatever challenges came about now would be turned into valuable lessons.

The boy, was Anthony Robbins, and the moment marked the birth of the Anthony Robbins Foundation's International Basket Brigade. Inspired more than three decades ago by one simple act of generosity on the part of one caring person, the International Basket Brigade has blossomed into an astounding collective effort that now feeds more than two million people in 74 countries. Throughout the holiday season each year, Basket Brigade volunteers in all parts of the world deliver food, clothing, and hope to those who need it most.

There currently are ten Basket Brigade teams across Australia who help thousands of people every Christmas with food and toys. Entirely run by volunteers, Basket Brigade works with local grass root organisations that work with families on a regular basis to assist those that are truly needy. Basket Brigade has no religious or political affiliations and anyone is welcome to donate to the cause, may it be in the form of funds, products or services, or as a volunteer.

I got to know about Basket Brigade through the most effective social networking website - Facebook. A member of Malaysians Sydney Chapter shared a video of last year's Packing Day, which she was a part of. Packing Day is the day volunteers meet up at a designated warehouse to pack these Baskets.

It looked and sounded like lots of meaningful fun to me so I checked my diary to make sure that I did not have an interviewed scheduled for the day. When the online registration link was accessible, I logged on and registered. An e-mail then arrived, confirming my participation and providing the when and where details of this year's Packing Day.

Fast forward to today. I woke up early to take a bus to Epping. Due to track works, I took a Cityrail bus to Strathfield where I took the M90 to Chullora and walked the rest of the journey to the warehouse in Greenacre. I was welcomed graciously at the gate and was directed to the registration counter where I handed in my paperwork. Right after the lady behind the counter strapped my left wrist with a red paper band (those that are waterproof and really hard to tear off), my lovely friends from Malaysians Sydney Chapter walked up the ramp.

I take my hat off to the committee who made the event possible. During the briefing session, we learnt that one committee member did some of her liaising from South Africa. Talk about dedication and commitment. We were also reminded to work at a leisurely pace to prevent injury and more importantly, to ensure that all Baskets (boxes, actually) contain the right amount of content according to the labels.

Let me share my first Packing Day experience with you. I was part of the human production line, where I started with an empty box that was gradually filled to the brim at the end.

There were so many boxes. In fact, over 2,200 of them! However, due to fewer sponsors and donors, this amount is no where near the 4,000 boxes packed last year. Everyone is feeling the economy pinch, I suppose.

Each box was either painted on or decorated with hand-drawn Christmas drawings and greetings.

Just to let you gauge the atmosphere in that warehouse...

I was not even halfway through the line for the amount of food in the box below...

... and no, not lying because look, tell me if you are able to see the end of the line...

There was little room left in the box for the presents (they go according to gender and age of the recipients) and in some cases, no room left at all!

The presents were carefully wrapped by volunteers working in a special wrapping section of the warehouse.

The committee stressed that the Baskets are given anonymously. The only note for the recipients asks them to take care of themselves and if one day, they find themselves in a position to help another, then we encourage them to do so - the "pay it forward" concept. This note was placed inside the box right before it gets taped up by other volunteers. The Baskets were then moved onto the floor space and sorted according to area, for other volunteers to deliver.

To me, what made the day all the more meaningful was the sight of parents with children in tow, young and old, groups and individuals, friends and strangers, all working together for one cause. Everyone showed enjoyment in their expressions regardless of their 'jobs'. Some carried  and distributed boxes, some the food items, some wrapped presents, some taped the boxes, some cleaned up, some manned the barbie. But all of us were happy to be there knowing that part of what we did this morning will put a smile on someone's face.

Thank you for sharing it with the group, Michaeline. It was so much fun to have your girls there with us, too, Charmaine and thank you for the ride to Chullora. And it was a pleasure getting to know you, Yasmin and John.

N.B.: All background information taken from Anthony Robbins Foundation's International Basket Brigade and Magic Moments Foundation Australia websites and Facebook pages.

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