Olathe parishioner makes hundreds of easter baskets for Catholic Charities
by Joe Bollig
OLATHE — Two weeks before Easter every year, Jean Ann Thompson’s living room here looks like the staging ground for the Easter Bunny’s invasion of Earth.
Nearly every square foot is covered with colorful Easter baskets, each containing candy and a stuffed bunny, wrapped with a pretty bow.
“I think there’s a little over 300 of them,” she said.
The only way for Jean Ann and her husband Charles, members of St. Paul Parish in Olathe, to get to the kitchen is a narrow path.
She doesn’t have a fixation on the Easter Bunny. Far from it. Every year, on the Tuesday before Easter, she and her family load up the baskets and take them to Catholic Charities Children and Family Services office in Olathe.
There, the Easter baskets are given to families who otherwise might not have them for their children.
The baskets are very popular.
“People have been coming in and asking about them — ‘Is the Easter basket lady coming this year?’” said Shirley Kelso, a Catholic Charities worker in the Olathe office.
Jean Ann understands. Her family struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and having an Easter basket was a real treat.
“I remember when we were young, we didn’t have anything,” she said. “We were real poor, but my parents managed to get us an Easter basket. I was always really thrilled with my Easter basket. I want to do this in case there are kids who would not get one otherwise.”
Jean Ann made her first 15 Easter baskets for Catholic Charities in 1990.
“My daughter, who lived next door [at the time] had a bunch of Easter candy left over from making [the grandchildren’s] Easter baskets,” said Jean Ann. “She said, ‘I don’t want to eat it. I want to give it to you.’ And I said that I didn’t want to eat it either.”
Then, Jean Ann had an inspiration. She suggested they find some spare stuffed animals and baskets, and assemble some Easter baskets for the Catholic Charities office in Olathe.
The baskets were a big hit, and she decided to do it again, year after year.
Jean Ann shops garage sales during the year for baskets and bunnies in good shape — no junk, she says. She vacuums and cleans them to get that “just new” appearance. She buys candy (about $200 worth) and puts a small amount in a plastic bag for each basket.
“Charles helps me put the ribbons on,” said Jean Ann. “But I usually just do it myself. People have offered to help, which is very nice, but I usually just do it myself, so I can do it at my own time.”
Jean Ann usually delivers the baskets on Tuesday of Holy Week. And generally, they don’t stay around long.
“They come in tomorrow,” Kelso said on Monday of Holy Week. “If anything is left here by Wednesday, I’ll be surprised.”