CHAMPAIGN — The childhood tradition Emily Troscinski brought to St. Matthew Catholic Church three years ago has grown into a 63-volunteer effort that will provide Thanksgiving meals and more to 220 families this year.
“I’m just so grateful to St. Matthew and all the parishioners for everything they do to make this happen,” Troscinski said. “It’s a joy to be able to serve all these amazing people who are in our community.”
Troscinski got the idea for a meal drop-off ministry from a similar program her mom had her volunteer in when she was growing up in Indiana.
She volunteered as a driver, delivering meal baskets directly into the hands of the people who needed them.
“I have never forgotten it. That 10 minutes of interaction made such a huge impression on me because I could see not only how grateful this woman was to receive this for her family, but also a man down the street hollered, ‘Thank you so much,’” Troscinski said. “He knew the need of his community.”
The experience stuck with Troscinski enough that, years later, she decided to give it a try in Champaign and went to her church with the idea.
“They have been nothing but supportive and wonderful,” Troscinski said.
The Thanksgiving Basket Ministry has grown each year with more and more donations providing for meals.
“Basket” is a bit of a misnomer, though, as each family will receive an 18-gallon tub full of food.
Troscinski said that the committee formed for the ministry had some discussion on what foods to include as they wanted to be sensitive to different cultures, but ended up going with traditional American Thanksgiving meals.
They also throw in some extra food like pasta and peanut butter for meals beyond Thanksgiving day, plus home essentials like laundry detergent.
Everything except for the ham is shelf-stable.
“We want to make sure that they have the ability to use all the food and that it works really well for them depending on their situation and how much fridge space they have,” Troscinski said.
The estimated cost for each basket is $115, so some families will team up to put one together.
On the other hand, some people make large enough financial gifts to buy multiple baskets.
That’s where 16 of those 63 volunteers come in: They went to grocery stores to turn those financial donations into 90 baskets of food.
“Some of our shoppers are expert shoppers,” Troscinski said.
Other volunteers help load cars or drive to make basket deliveries on the actual day, delivering around 90 percent of the baskets to homes within 25 miles of St. Matthew.
Even Troscinski’s children, all under the age of six, get in on the volunteering by helping to sort foods into the tubs.
After weeks of preparation, all the food gets delivered the day before Thanksgiving.
It’s hard work, but Troscinski said that her belief in God and the generosity of the people around her keeps her going.
She remembers being stressed out in 2022 about not having enough baskets to provide for everyone who needed one, so she decided to take a moment to pray.
“I finished my little prayer, I lifted my head and I had an email that had just come in,” Troscinski said. “It was a businessman in town who said, ‘Hey, I heard about this ministry and I want to participate.’”
The man ended up providing funds for ten more baskets.
Another time, a volunteer ended up running into someone who was in need of food while delivering another basket.
It looked like the ministry wouldn’t be able to provide one until some volunteers ran in late, worried that they had missed the chance to donate a basket.
“All these parishioners at St. Matthews are so generous and so kind and they understand the need,” Troscinski said. “I think it’s so beautiful to see everyone come together and work so hard and volunteer their time or money.”