Buona Beef’s catering warehouse was a sea of volunteers in red and green shirts, on Sunday, Nov. 21st in Berwyn, IL, all surrounded by piles and boxes full of $16,500 worth of food.
The crowd of more than 150 people slowly formed into an assembly line, ready to put together “Baskets of Love.” Each participant had a certain role. Children were packing canned goods, adults were carrying potatoes bags, and teens were taping and carrying loaded boxes to delivery cars.
The volunteers with the Chicagoland Italian American Charitable Organization know that many families cannot afford the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and casseroles, especially in times of an economic downturn. The annual “Baskets of Love” food drive aims to helps provide families in need with the essentials for the big day.
Each fall CIACO members start raising money for the 50-pound, each of which includes a turkey, bag of potatoes, canned vegetables, macaroni and cheese boxes, maple syrup, and more. CIACO formed in 1995 as a charitable non-profit; it has over 175 members.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, CIACO members gather at the Buona Beef catering warehouse in Berwyn, to form a basket-making assembly line. According to CIACO President Lou Scaramuzzo, the group gave out 50 turkeys to needy families during its first year.
The number of baskets has steadily been increasing. In 2008, CIACO assembled 350 Baskets of Love; and in 2009, they put together and gave out 500 baskets. CIACO hopes to continue the growth, and is handling over 500 crates of 50-pound baskets this year. The food goes to families across DuPage and Cook counties by way of churches, shelters and other community sources.
Members hope that CIACO’s enthusiasm for charity can be infectious.
“We hope that by sharing our story, we can inspire others in the community to support each other during these tough times,” said Matt Tramel, a CIACO member.
Olivia Reamen, one of the younger volunteers, has been helping at the event for the past few years. On Sunday, Reaman was there with her family, including grandfather Nick Schiavone; she was carrying boxes of canned frosting.
“It’s always a lot of fun. I come here with all of my cousins. It’s important to help people in need,” Reamen said.
Schiavone, a long-time member of CIACO, said that more than 150 children volunteer each year. Schiavone said that more than 50 adult members bring their entire families to help out each year. Students receive a Community Service letter from CIACO President Lou Scaramuzzo as a thanks for helping the cause.
Scaramuzzo said that CIACO members spend the year raising money to buy the food. Although some businesses donate food to the cause, CIACO members buy the most, Scaramuzzo said.
Tramel says the members spend about $16,500 on goods for the baskets.
CIACO member and Buona Beef president, Carlo Buonavolanto, provides his warehouse, crates, a full buffet of food for volunteers and a face-painting clown for entertaining the children, according to Tramel. The Buona Catering manager Mike Iovnelli also takes part and helps to oversee the assembly process.
“We do this to help those in need. There are people out there who don’t have food, and we do this to provide them with a good meal,” Scaramuzzo said.