Annual U.S. Coast Guard Spouses' Association Thanksgiving Basket Drive delivers the holiday to families in needMore than 400 families are celebrating Thanksgiving with all the trimmings today - thanks to the annual U.S. Coast Guard Spouses' Association Thanksgiving Basket Drive.

"It's nice we've been able to do it, but it's a crying shame it needs to be done," said Sandi Kelley, the organization's co-president.

Each year the spouses' group collects canned vegetables, pumpkin pie, brownie mix, gravy packets and other canned goods. They buy fresh fruit, potatoes, onions and turkeys in bulk, and put everything into cardboard boxes. Families pick the boxes up the Monday before Thanksgiving.

The Spouses' Association partners with students and organizations throughout the community to gather and distribute the food.

This year, local schools held food drives, and students from St. Mary, Star of the Sea and Astoria High School helped assemble the baskets. The Coast Guard cutter Alert collected 900 pounds of food during its Halloween Haunted Ship tour.

INFO BOXYear-round donations are accepted for the annual Thanksgiving Basket Drive at CGSAA P.O. Box 862 Astoria, OR 97103.Money raised through the Coast Guard Air Fair and Coast Guard Crafter's Bazaar, along with food from the Oregon Food Bank and donations from local businesses, also helped with the costs.

This year, Lewis and Clark Elementary students made Thanksgiving cards for each basket.

During a workday at the white warehouse off Marine Drive, where the baskets were assembled, Kaitlin Junes, 11, said volunteering at Thanksgiving made her feel good.

"'Cause now we know everyone we help has food," she said.

Each year, as food prices rise, the association works harder to meet the need.

"We try to put as much in them as we can, but the price of turkey is so high this year," Kelley said.

Turkey was 54 cents a pound last year. This year organizers bought 10- to 12-pound turkeys from Cash and Carry for 74 cents a pound, the lowest price they could find.

Clatsop Community Action helps identify the families who most need the baskets, and the Coast Guard chaplain provides a list of eligible military families. Last year, 435 local families received baskets, including 73 Coast Guard families. The number of recipients held steady this year. The association distributed 408 baskets, 68 of those to Coast Guard families.

"Especially the new (Coasties) who have young babies and their spouses can't find work, it's kind of dicey," Kelley said.

Four years ago, 125 families received baskets. A year later, that number jumped to 250. In 2002, nearly 360 families received baskets.

"Every year the numbers for baskets has increased, so I think there is a definite need," said Jennifer Brown, spouses' association co-president.

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