Jenna Westbrook-Kline discovered a world of need while hunting for a taker of excess Easter goodies a couple of years ago.
In 2013, when a visiting relative gifted her children a Deluxe See’s Easter Basket, she listed the basket for free on Craigslist.
“Within minutes, my email box began filling with requests for the basket,” Jenna said. “I immediately deleted the ad, but even in that short timeframe I had 15 requests. I read through all of the heartbreaking stories, and decided on one. Then, I set in on the work of telling the other 14 people that I was sorry but the basket had been claimed. It was late in the evening, the night before Easter. ”
She received an email from one mother who had just fled her abuser and moved into a new apartment where she lacked furniture and silverware. Another email came from a grandmother who had just unexpectedly gained custody of her grandson and did not have the money to buy an Easter basket for him. Many parents also reached out to her seeking to split the basket among multiple children. They were devastated that they could not make the holiday special for their families.
The experience taught Jenna that the childhood rite of passage of waking up to an Easter basket is out of reach to too many children in Sacramento. That year, she vowed to create more Easter baskets for families in need the following Easter.
“We think of kids at Christmas time, but then we forget that there are these special holidays throughout the rest of year,” Jenna said. “Often they see other kids celebrating these holidays at school and can be painfully aware of what they are missing out on.”
Until 2015, Jenna posted the Easter baskets that she created to give away on Craigslist.
“It was just so personal — getting to really meet the people who would come to my house and give me the biggest hugs for the Easter baskets,” she said. “People are just so grateful and thankful. I think sometimes the story line is that people who are socioeconomically depressed are not grateful. They work extremely hard and have low paying jobs and often work hard hours just to struggle to exist and when you do offer them something nice, they are just so grateful.”
Since 2016, she has been partnering with Wellspring Women’s Center to create Easter baskets filled with treats that are both practical and whimsical. Her baskets include chocolate bunnies, toys, books, healthy snacks and new socks and underwear.
“I love that the focus of Wellspring is to treat people with dignity and that they don’t make their guests jump through hoops,” she said. “People still have their pride — it is already hard to accept help and then when you start questioning people, you place a burden on them.”
Jenna works hard to ensure that all the items in each basket are gifts that she would give to her own children.
“We make sure that every basket has a chocolate Easter bunny and every basket has a good book,” she said. “I read this startling statistic that your average middle class home has 25 children’s books and that in low income households, there is one children’s book for every 300 households.”
This year, Jenna along with a crew of volunteers assembled 200 baskets for the children of Wellspring. She started collecting items for the baskets by sending out a needs list to her family and friends. She updates the needs list based off each donation that she receives and goes shopping to complete the Easter Baskets with money that has been donated to the project.
“We have an assembly day and people come to my house and we get all of the donations organized and categorized,” Jenna said. “We place tables along the perimeter of my dining room and do an assembly line. I encourage people to have their children involved. When you grab a basket, you place a tally mark on the type of basket you are assembling — we have a sign saying which baskets are for which age and gender and we do quality control after all of the baskets are assembled.”
Jenna recruits two Spanish speaking volunteers to help her hand out the baskets during Wellspring’s Easter celebration so that they can communicate with spanish-speaking guests.
The experience of seeing smiles on children’s faces makes all of the hard work worthwhile, Jenna said.
“I love seeing the looks on kids faces, they are just so excited,” Jenna said. “I remember this little girl was just so excited and you know when a little kid is just so excited that the excitement is seeping from them. She kept chanting to herself, ‘I’m going to get an easter basket. I’m going to see the Easter bunny.’ … I am the Easter Basket lady and this is what I am going to be doing for the rest of my life.”