After returning from a hiatus from the office following some holiday vacation days, I am back toiling at the laptop and find myself in a reflective mood.

Basket of Joy shows industry’s helping heart

Tom Karst
National Editor

In particular, I think of the trip I made to Denver in December to observe and take part in the Basket of Joy fruit basket donation effort.

The program, now in its 23rd year, began in 1988 at the suggestion of Dan Sutton, director of produce procurement for Albertsons LLC, Boise, Idaho.

Sutton wrote a letter to Woody Paige, then a columnist with The Denver Post, about the plight of two elderly sisters who had been victims of a swindle by a financial planner.

Sutton provided two fruit baskets for Paige to present to the sisters that year and the following Christmas the paper’s readers contributed enough money to distribute 5,000 fruit baskets to “socially isolated” senior citizens.

On Dec. 11 this year, the program donated 6,700 fruit baskets to senior citizens in the Denver area. Since its beginning, the Basket of Joy program has distributed more than 135,000 fruit baskets shared by more than 300,000 people.

A foundation associated with The Denver Post provides the nearly $40,000 needed to buy fruit and other supplies.

Coordinated by the Denver office of the Volunteers of America, about 300 volunteers help build the fruit baskets and up to 800 others deliver them. Sutton said children of some of the first volunteers now take part.

Basket of Joy shows industry’s helping heart

Tom Karst

Denver Basket of Joy organizers Denny Gray (left), a financial assets manager, and Dan Sutton, director of produce procurement for Albertsons LLC, are pictured with Mary Cromwell, longtime volunteer with the holiday basket program. Basket of Joy provided 6,700 fruit baskets to isolated senior citizens in the Denver area.

“It’s amazing,” Sutton said. “It has become a family tradition.”

Denny Gray, an asset manager in the Denver area, has helped organize Basket of Joy program from its outset.

Fruit baskets have been assembled at the Denver Mattress Factory for the past five years and that is expected to continue. Gray credited the company’s ongoing sacrifice and participation in the work.

This type of outreach speaks to the hearts of the people involved. Obviously, something like this outreach only happens because a person like Sutton acts on an empathetic impulse to help, to be there for those less fortunate.

As much as the “heart” is a big component of Basket of Joy, I was impressed by the intelligence, planning and engineering that were a part of the effort.

One small example: Sutton has a spreadsheet that computes the number of fruit cartons of apples, grapefruit, pears, etc., needed based on the number of fruit baskets required. He also has computer generated diagrams that illustrate the workflow for each of the stations used to create the fruit baskets.

Of course, many other volunteers beyond Sutton and Gray have been instrumental as well.

Bill Frye, the former owner of Ringer and Son Brokerage in Denver, helped Sutton put together the logistics for the fruit during the first few years of the Basket of Joy. Since then, he has only missed one year of helping out, and that because of the flu.

Rick Dusenbery, formerly the lead produce receiver at Albertson’s distribution center, first volunteered to help with Basket of Joy in 1988.

Sutton says he has showed up early and stayed later every year since then. I saw Dusenbery manage a group in breaking down pallets and rebuilding each pallet with the right combination of fruit needed for each fruit basket assembly station.

Bob Rensink, vice president of operations for the Denver Mattress Factory, helped ready the facility for the annual Basket of Fruit assembly effort.

Without that company’s willingness to help, Sutton said the Basket of Joy would be building fruit baskets at old abandoned produce warehouses all over Denver.

Sutton, Gray, Frye, Dusenbery and others are the best examples I have seen in using both their hearts and heads to accomplish a great and selfless task.

I know many more industry leaders have also given their time and talents to communities across the country during the holiday season. We don’t hear enough about those stories.

For 2011, I hope that I can use my heart, head and hands in the same way that Sutton and so many others have blessed the Denver community.


Have you participated in the Basket of Joy program? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.