Filling a void: Naples Basket Brigade providing bundles of food to students in need

November 11, 2015 – After suffering a stroke in her late 40’s, being confined to a wheelchair and losing her ability to speak, work and take care of herself, Marisol Oleynichak was ready to give up on life.

“All I did was stay in bed,” Oleynichak said. “My kids had to bathe and change me. We lost our income. I had to prepare myself for not being able to pay our bills. I didn’t know how we were going to make it.”

The book that made her get out of bed, put on makeup and go back to school wasn’t meant for her.

Her daughter, Mila Gato, a fourth grader at Sabal Palm Elementary School, brought home from school a basketful of food for good school performance. And there was the book — “Notes From a Friend,” by Tony Robbins.

“It opened me up and made me realize I didn’t want to give up on life,” Oleynichak said.

That’s the effect Wade Mastro hoped to have when he started the Naples Basket Brigade two years ago.

The group is dedicated to rewarding academic excellence for elementary school children in Collier County while helping families that are less fortunate. School counselors and teachers at 26 Collier elementary schools determine which students receive the basket based on financial need and school performance.

The local brigade is a branch of the International Basket Brigade, an initiative of the Anthony Robbins Foundation dedicated to feeding families in need. Mastro attended one of Robbins’ motivational speeches in Fort Lauderdale with friends and was inspired to get involved in a philanthropic cause.

Robbins decided to start the International Basket Brigade to pay forward a kind gesture someone made to his family when he was 11 years old. While his parents were fighting one Thanksgiving, a man knocked on the door of their house and delivered a box of food so the family could have their Thanksgiving feast — something they wouldn’t have been able to have because of their financial situation.

Members of the Naples brigade packed laundry baskets with an assortment of food and nonperishables — bread, peanut butter, canned vegetables, cereal, granola bars, apple juice, fruit cups and rice. The group then delivers the baskets at the end of every nine weeks to the schools. The brigade serves elementary schools from East Naples to Immokalee.

“It’s a small thing to do, but small gestures can change someone’s life,” Mastro said.

Last week, a group of people from Mastro’s business, 4What Interactive, and Impact Golf Zone met at the Impact office in Bonita Springs to assemble baskets and determine who would deliver the baskets to which schools. Impact Golf Zone and Nova Wealth Management donated enough money for the brigade to meet its goal for the first nine weeks.

They made their first delivery of the school year on Monday, Nov. 9, and delivered baskets to 30 students.

“The kids are so proud,” said Mary Ely, school counselor at Sabal Palm Elementary School in Golden Gate Estates. “It makes them feel accomplished to be recognized for the good they’ve done.”

The Naples Basket Brigade is only in its second year, but it has already reached about 100 students and families in the Collier County school system.

This year, Mastro hopes the brigade can raise enough money to assemble 120 baskets by the end of the year.

“We live in this beautiful area, and sometimes we don’t realize that there is a lot of need here,” Mastro said. “We want to help as many kids and families as we can.”

To learn more about the Naples Basket Brigade, visit 2ndchancenaples.org/naples-basket-brigade.

source: Collier Citizen