Two decades after it began, one of Texarkana's favorite Christmas-time traditions continues to bring out the best in the community.
The 20th annual Bramlett Beans and Cornbread lunch on Thursday raised funds and food donations to help families in need enjoy the holiday season. The event brought in hundreds of dollars and dozens of bags of food for the benefit of the Christmas Basket program organized by Texarkana Water Utilities employees and both Texarkanas' city employees.
For $5 or a donation of six food items, attendees at the Texas-side's Southwest Community Center ate beans provided by Big Jake's Bar-B-Que, cornbread made by Texarkana, Texas, Independent School District food services staff and coffee and dessert from Starbucks. Texas High School art students were also there selling handmade ceramic bowls to benefit the Christmas Basket program.
Proceeds will help pay for at least 100 food "baskets"—actually boxes decorated with gift-wrapping by local Girl Scouts—filled with food for families in need. Local schools and city employees nominate recipients each year.
Baskets contain donated food and other nonperishable food items, hams, produce, bread, candy canes and more. Organizers shop year-round to take advantage of sale prices for basket items, TWU Administrative Coordinator Pam White said.
The event's founder and namesake, former Texarkana, Texas, Mayor James Bramlett, said he had no idea it would still be going strong after 20 years.
"I'm fortunate enough to put my name on it, and here we are at 20 years due to community support and all the business community supporting it. We couldn't do it without our sponsors," he said.
The Christmas Basket program began in 1991 with baskets given to five TWU employees. Former TWU Human Resources Director Paula Jeans began it in honor of her father, who had died suddenly on the day before Thanksgiving the previous year.
"I started kind of asking around, and I thought, 'Food. Everybody needs food.' That's the one thing that you can give somebody any time," she said. The program was an immediate success.
"It was just wonderful. I mean, it was just a great feeling to know that, OK, we've all got enough, so let's help somebody that doesn't. And then the next year we did it again, and it's just continued to grow," Jeans said.
The event's organizers hope that by providing food, they can free families' resources to meet other needs.
"If we can provide a box of food, maybe they can spend that money on their kids or something else they need, instead of spending a couple hundred dollars on food at Christmas," Jeans said.