Basket of Hope is a national nonprofit organization that provides baskets filled with age-specific toys and activities to entertain hospitalized children. Ann Ollendike started the New Orleans branch of this organization in 2008. Celebrities, such as Saints players and coach Sean Payton, often present the baskets. The organization seeks to provide a hopeful, fun experience for deserving children.
Because Ollnedike’s own daughter has faced many hospitalizations throughout her life, Ollendike was familiar with the stress that such situations place upon entire families. Through a chance connection with quarterback-turned-philanthropist Kurt Warner (their families met at a Walt Disney Wish Trip several years ago), Ollendike learned about the Basket of Hope organization. Warner helped her fund the New Orleans chapter, and soon the organization was off and running.
Furthering the football connection, Basket of Hope hosts a national charity event in the Superbowl host city every year. People from all branches of the organization, as well as NFL players, gather to pack thousands of baskets that are then shipped to participating cities. As many as 7,000 baskets have been packed in one day during these events, and the baskets are then delivered year-round.
Each basket is tailored to a child’s age and developmental abilities, and features inspiring books, music, crafts, MP3 players and toys. Furthermore, the parents can receive a “Hope Tote” filled with books, music and journals. (The totes bags themselves are by Vera Bradley, which moms tend to love). Ollendike aims to provide quality gifts because she knows how stressful these events are for all family members.
“Our purpose is to walk into a person’s life, be still, visit and listen. We join in to their situation to show that they are loved, and that people are thinking about them,” says Ollendike.
At this point, what New Orleans’ Basket of Hope needs is more community awareness. Individual volunteers, as well as businesses interested in corporate sponsorship, would be greatly appreciated. Furthermore, area schools are encouraged to host packing events or collect donations.
Ollendike would also like to include more practical items in the baskets, such as gas cards or coffee cups. Lastly, she would love a large climate-controlled warehouse space on the Northshore to facilitate basket-packing year-round. Overall, Ollendike would love to see the organization continue to grow and serve more hospitals with frequent deliveries from Basket of Hope.”
For more information, to volunteer and to donate, visit BasketOfHope.org, and go to the Louisiana office.