December is arguably the busiest time of year for Burbank resident Janet Diel and the nonprofit Burbank Coordinating Council.
For the past 71 years, the organization has been preparing and distributing holiday baskets to less-fortunate families in Burbank. Last year, about 550 families received a basket, and Diel, the nonprofit's president, said she expects to help about the same number of people this holiday season.
Last Thursday, Diel was at home fielding calls and emails from potential volunteers, donors and families who would like to be included in the program.
"Forms [to sign up for a basket] are coming in daily," she said.
Though there are times when it appears she has too much on her plate — such as speaking at the World Kindertransport Day event or helping with construction of the Burbank Rose Parade float — Diel said there is nothing better than helping families in need during the holidays.
That sentiment stems from years of seeing people in the community volunteering their time and annual efforts to either shop for families, donate items for baskets or help assemble the baskets before they are distributed.
It also comes from interaction with a local family many years ago.
Toward the end of a day of driving around Burbank and handing out baskets, Diel and her family had one more house to go.
When they pulled up to the house, they noticed the front lawn was not well maintained, and two boys were running around barefoot. They were able to see inside the house because the curtains were either open or there were none. Inside the house was the father of the two boys, who was a double amputee in a wheelchair.
"The kids saw us drive up in their driveway, and the kids ran into the house," Diel said. "They were telling him, 'Daddy, you were right, there is a Santa Claus.'"
Diel and her family handed the family two small baskets, which contained some food and toiletries. However, Diel said she told the family there might be some other items left at the site where the baskets were assembled.
However, instead of going back to the facility, Diel said that she and her family went back home and emptied out their cupboards and filled more boxes with food. Then they took the money they would have spent on gifts for one another and went to Zodys, which was a retail store in Burbank at the time, to buy gifts for the needy family.
"We went back to that house and gave the food and those gifts to that family," Diel said as she held back tears. "My kids have never forgotten that."
It is now crunch time for Diel and her volunteers to prepare the baskets for families this year. She said that she can never have too many volunteers for the program, and that people can still register to participate.
To register, visit burbankcoordinatingcouncil.com/holiday-baskets/.