Every year, Blaine’s Community Assistance Program (CAP) gives away hundreds of ready-to-cook Thanksgiving meals. For the last two decades, Shirley Tobian has been a vital part of the process.

CAP is a non-profit organization that formed as an outreach of Blaine area churches. They receive no funding from the government, are all-volunteer, and run off donations. They serve Blaine, Birch Bay, Custer, and Point Roberts with their social service programs, which include Crisis Assistance, the Community Toy Store, and the Thanksgiving Basket program.

“The Thanksgiving Basket program has always been extremely special to me,” says Tobian, who is working her 20th year of the program in 2023. She’s currently the director of the Thanksgiving Basket program, but after this year she’s stepping down. She also works one week a month as a Crisis Assistance volunteer, which means “helping people that need help, whether it be their electric bill, or food, or whatever it is.”

Tobian starts pulling the program together as early as August. She organizes a team of around 30 volunteers, purchases the necessary food, and sources a location for the handout of the baskets (this and last year, the location is an industrial warehouse whose usage is donated by TC Trading Company).

Each of this year’s 220 Thanksgiving Baskets (which are actually packed in banana boxes) will come with a fresh turkey, totaling approximately 4,000 pounds of poultry. The program also uses 700 cans of green beans, potatoes (Bedlington Farms in Lynden have donated up to 1,200 pounds of potatoes in the past), yams, onions, celery, cranberry sauce, rolls, gravy mix, and chicken broth. Each basket will also have a box of stuffing mix, a pound of butter, and a gallon of milk (donated by Edaleen Dairy).

Those experiencing financial hardship can go online or call to register for a basket. About a week before the big day, Tobian mails out postcards with instructions for pickup. For singles and couples who might not want or need a large amount of food all at once, Tobian also secures 60 gift cards to Cost Cutter.

Basket assembly will start on Thursday, Nov. 16. Tobian and her volunteers will pack the shelf-stable ingredients over Thursday and Friday, sizing baskets to different sized families. Fresh rolls go in on Monday, and the last items– the turkeys, the butter, and so on– get added before handout begins around 11:30 a.m on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

Families arrive and sign-in on site (about 50 every half hour), and volunteer firefighters take the baskets out to their cars. The firefighters donate their hours and use their equipment to pick up milk and potatoes, and to deliver baskets to those who can’t come get them. Mike Nelson of North Whatcom Fire and Rescue has been helping with the Thanksgiving Basket program for nearly 25 years.

“When I was growing up, my family received [similar] dinner boxes at Thanksgiving, and my mom sheltered us from knowing where they came from so as to not feel impoverished,” says Nelson. “I grew up elsewhere but jumped at the chance to get involved.”

Although Tobian is stepping down as the director of the program (she says her family will be very happy to have her
focus back on their own Thanksgiving), the work she’s put into it over the years has had an incalculably positive effect on her community.

“The firefighters are absolutely an amazing group of guys, and I have the best volunteers in Whatcom County … I couldn’t do it without both the donations that pay for it and the people that helped me put it together,” says Tobian. The best thanks we can give to her for her years of service is to keep the Thanksgiving Basket program going strong, so visit blainecap.org to find ways to donate and volunteer. The CAP
Center, 508 G St., Blaine, 360.392.8484, blainecap.org