Below is an interview with Spirit FM Station Manager John Morris and Avery Bellamy of Catholic Charities.
Lent begins a time of fasting, reflection and almsgiving for Christians around the world. Right here in our own Diocese of St. Petersburg, we’ve started what will hopefully be a long tradition of giving to those less fortunate during the season of Lent. It’s called Easter Baskets of Plenty. The baskets are presented to the children and families the Saturday before Easter, April 16th. This year, the collection begins now, through mid-April. I want to welcome the brainchild behind this endeavor, Avery Bellamy, who is from Catholic Charities to talk about this project. Avery is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Tell us the first Easter Baskets of Plenty held last year?
Last year was a wonderful success. We had a bunch of parishes get involved with many parishioners donating items. On Holy Saturday, we handed out 468 Easter baskets to the children of San Jose Mission in Dover. Then on Easter Sunday, we handed out the rest of the 500 total baskets to the children. I can tell you we definitely hit our goal of donating joy.
What was it like to see on that first Saturday, when those kids saw those baskets? How do you describe that?
Honestly, it was a very moving and touching moments. It took my breath away. Also, I was in tears, a lot of happy tears. We take a lot for granted in our day-to-day life. We will complain that our sandwiches are cold when we go through the drive-thru or maybe drop the coffee on the way to the office. But these children don’t have a lot in their life. And just to see their faces, it’s like they were receiving the best thing that they had ever gotten in this whole entire world. And that was just was very touching. I will never ever forget that no matter what. We are very fortunate compared to other people out there.
Now going into your second year of doing this. What’s the goals this year?
We are hoping for more baskets because we have more children this year. Right now, we have 122 families at the San Jose Mission. That leads to 300 children but we’re also going to be giving the baskets to the children at San Juan Diego Mission, just like we did last year. So, the total needed is close to 550 baskets. So, 50 more baskets. We’re still going to have the Easter Bunny, like we did last year, but we’re going to have a fun Easter egg hunt. So, after they get their baskets, they’re going to head over to the big lawn area and they’re going to go hunt for some Easter eggs and they’re going to be filled with all sorts of goodies.
What are you collecting for the kids for this specific drive?
We are collecting a lot of items, such as the traditional Easter candy and little knickknacks. However, they also need necessities. So, the Easter baskets can be filled with things they need. For example, we’re going to be collecting pacifiers, diapers, baby soaps, balls and bubbles, chalk, coloring books, nail polish for the teens, hair accessories, deodorant, comb, socks, notebooks, and pens. But also, they want some fun things that every other kid plays with every day, like slime. Slime is very popular for the teenagers right now.
I’m sure you organize and separate things out, so the donor doesn’t have to bring a pre- made basket. They could just bring the items and then you guys sort them. Is that how that works?
Yes. We’re asking for the items. We have a great volunteer team that puts these baskets together before Easter Sunday. The baskets are handed out from infants to 18 years of age. We color coordinate each basket for different age groups. The items that we put into the baskets are age appropriate. Don’t worry about getting a whole Easter basket. If you want, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. If you donate the items, our volunteers are going to put these together and hand them out to each age group.
Where can people donate?
We’re going to have participating parishes and/or schools as drop off locations. And so not every Catholic parish within the diocese is going to participate. Currently, the participating parishes are:
- St. Anthony Catholic School, San Antonio
- St. Stephen Catholic School, Riverview
- Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Tampa
- St. Mark the Evangelist Parish, Tampa
- St. Anne Parish, Ruskin
- St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Clearwater
- Catholic Bulls Alumni Society
- Holy Family Parish, St. Petersburg
- St. Timothy Parish, Lutz
To learn more about items needed, participating parishes, and to make a donation, visit
People can also donate monetary donations by texting donateforjoy to 41444!
Tell me about San Jose Mission and the San Juan Diego Mission and why you selected these?
The San Jose Mission is a residential community composed of 122 rental units that provide housing for low-income families involved in the agriculture industries. The families living at the San Jose Mission are farm worker families. San Jose Mission supports these low-income families by providing housing, clothing, food, and other items they need. The San Juan Diego Mission is a neighboring mission. It is not part of Catholic Charities, but it’s neighboring missions so we support them also. They come over to the San Jose Mission to get clothing as well, and food. They also come to the big community center, and they share a priest from St. Clement Catholic Church. The priest there comes to the campus and celebrates Mass for both missions.
You don’t necessarily have to be Catholic to attend either one of those missions, correct?
Correct. You do not have to be a Catholic to be served. But it’s because of our Catholic faith that we do serve. We serve every person because each one is a child of God. We also get support from Nativity Catholic Church’s Food Bank. Also, Holy Innocence Episcopal Church serves hot meals every second Saturday to both missions, free meals.
Talk about the hope for the future at San Jose Mission?
Future plans right now at the San Jose Mission is basically to renovate the current apartments, and also the community centers. Our next goal is to create a basketball court and a soccer field for the children to play. Also, to renovate the playground, and in the future, after those renovations are made to the current grounds, we would love to have some more apartments available.
Photo Caption: A child walks through San Jose Mission enjoying the Easter basket giveaway in 2021. Photo by Chris Zuppa.