BALTIMORE — When you ask the women at Benevolent Baskets to describe what it’s like to work with this non-profit, they all use the same word: family.
The strong bond these women share is evident, whether they are managers, volunteers, or are seeking help to improve their situation. There is laughter, hugs, and deep conversations. They are all one big family.
“Our goal has always been to provide resources and guidance and support to formerly homeless women who are seeking their optimal wholeness and independence,” said Karen Lerario, co-founder of Benevolent Baskets.
Lerario and her friend Lesley Geisel started the non-profit 10 years ago.
“We refer to it as a heart condition,” Lerario said. “A really sincere desire to help women.”
Women are referred to the program through case managers at places like Catholic Charities or My Sister’s Place. They are responsible for designing, building and selling the gift baskets.
The baskets come in a variety of themes and can be for any occasion, like a holiday, birthday or wedding.
“The change in energy level and emotion in this room of production is absolutely palpable,” said Lerario. “It’s pure joy to see what the opportunity to be productive can do for any of us.”
Elizabeth Nicholson has been with Benevolent Baskets for almost eight years. She says she was homeless for awhile before she came to the group.
“Benevolent Baskets helped me learn how to deal with people because I was shy, I know they ain't gonna agree with that, but I was shy and it helped me open up to people,” she said.
Anita Hutchins dealt with homelessness and drug abuse. She’s now close to four years sober and has housing and a part time job. She says Benevolent Baskets played a role in helping to turn her life around.
“It gave me my confidence back, probably more confidence than I ever had before, and it's amazing,” she said.
“I thank God for putting Benevolent Baskets into my life, to help me to be a better person, hoping that I could help someone else.”
Last year, Benevolent Baskets started a job readiness course under the direction of Andrea Landry-Brown. The women learn how to write cover letters and resumes, answer questions during an interview and land the job they want.
“[It’s about] helping women and helping individuals learn how to manage mental wellness while also preparing them for work,” said Landry-Brown.
“I watched them blossom from being shy to coming into their own and building their self-esteem.”
In the 10 years Benevolent Baskets has been around, they’ve helped close to 80 women. Lerario says 90 percent of those women continue to maintain their own housing and independence.
“To have the opportunity to love women, from our clients to our volunteers, it’s just really a privilege.”
Benevolent Baskets delivers their gift baskets to the greater Baltimore area. If you’d like to purchase a Valentine’s Day basket, orders are due by February 12. Click here to go to their website.