ORLANDO, Fla. - Joetta Raylots is this week's News 6 Getting Results Award winner.
Raylots, founder of the Thanksgiving Basket Brigade Central Florida, has been delivering holiday meals to the needy for 20 years.
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Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, volunteers converge at a local parking lot with laundry baskets full of food in hand. The decorated baskets, with enough food to feed a family of five, are placed in row after row on the pavement. Moments later, another group of volunteers picks them up and delivers them across the city.
This marks the 20th year that the foundation has collected and delivered baskets to families in Orange, Osceola, Volusia and Lake counties.
"The idea came when I went to a Tony Robbins event 20 years ago," said Raylots, reflecting on how it all started. "He tells a story that a stranger showed up at his house when he was a young boy and I thought, 'Hmm, we can do that.'"
Raylots said for many of the volunteers, giving has become a holiday tradition.
"You never know what difference you're going to make," she said.
The families are nominated by guidance counselors, case workers, friends and relatives.
Nastasshi Lewis was a basket recipient last year. She lost her job, her car was repossessed and she couldn't get any help.
"I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do for Thanksgiving, but I prayed about it," Lewis said.
Then she received a basket of hope right on her doorstep. It was filled with everything she needed for a delicious Thanksgiving meal.
"I lost it. I lost it. I ugly-cried, but I will never forget that moment. I was so grateful to whoever sent it," Lewis said.
This year, Lewis wanted to pay the kind gesture forward, so she joined hundreds of volunteers at First Baptist Orlando on Nov. 18.
The community dropped off baskets decorated with ribbons, balloons and signs, each one filled with traditional Thanksgiving food items and a gift card for a turkey or ham.
"The key is that they're decorated," Raylots said. "The idea of presenting a gift comes across differently. It isn't taken as charity. It's like a friend feeding a friend."
Raylots said the mission has big goals.
"My prayer is about 5,000 baskets will go out and would feed over 25,000 people in one morning." Raylots said.
Volunteers loaded up their vehicles and drove off, surprising families at their door with the special deliveries.
Everyone receiving a basket was so grateful for the random act of kindness.
"I appreciate that very much," said Annie Mayhue, who received a basket.
For Lewis, it was all about delivering the same joy she received last year.
"For someone to help me, this goes for anybody out there, just pay it forward always. You just never know," Lewis said.
Next year's event will be held Nov. 17, 2018. You can find more information at BasketBrigadeFlorida.com.
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