A new record was set this past weekend for the number of children who received presents through the Basket Brigade, a Pine Island Fellow Islanders Sending Help program.
This year 238 kids received presents through the Basket Brigade, an increase of 198 from the previous year. Basket Brigade Chair Peg Harmon said they also provided 103 baskets for families and 31 baskets for seniors.
"It was a record year for us," F.I.S.H. President Diane Higgins said.
Carol Lutz said they provided about 40 gift cards for those who are 13-years-old and older this year. She said volunteers also helped them wrap close to 600 presents on Dec. 16 for the children of Pine Island.
"I would guess there were probably 35 people there to wrap," she said, adding that they had to turn some people away because they did not have enough table space for more wrappers.
Lutz said they assign each gift to a child by placing a numbered sticky note on the toy, so the parents will receive the correct gifts for their children. She said the name of the family always remains anonymous during the process.
Higgins said Dec. 16 and 17 went very well.
"We had our usual wonderful turnout," she said.
Higgins said although they had a lot of gifts to wrap, it was completed in record time. On Saturday the parents came by the church to pick up the presents for their kids.
She said they also partnered with the food pantry this year to help provide families with a Winn-Dixie gift card and bags of food for the holidays. She said all the families went home with a bag of food.
"I feel wonderful," Higgins said after they distributed the wrapped presents to the families. "We certainly have tried very hard to serve as many of the islanders as we could. I think we did that very well this year."
The shopping typically takes place after Kip Lawrence's Toys for Girls and Boys Concert. Lutz said those who attend the concert bring toys for the Basket Brigade. The Red Hat Ladies chapter also drops off vans full of toys for the cause.
Harmon said the American Legion, St. Johns Episcopal Church and the Useppa Island Club also donated towards the cause this year.
"Pine Island is really the place to be," Lutz said. "We couldn't do it without the help of the whole island."
She said she usually begins shopping for toys with Mary Jo Roane in October, which usually takes about four or five trips because of the few hundred toys they have to purchase.
Lutz said they call all of the parents to find out what their kids want for Christmas before they begin their shopping.
"It is very personalized," Lutz said. "We do our best to accomplish their wishes."
Lutz said she takes a week off of work every year, so the children have toys in time for Christmas. Between the two of them they put in 400 hours to make the annual Basket Brigade happen.
Lutz just completed her 16th year of volunteering her time for the Basket Brigade. She said she moved to the island 17 years ago right before Christmas.
"It's just fun," she said as to why she has kept with it for so many years. "You know that you are helping people and giving them a Christmas boost."