As the sun rises so do hundreds of dedicated participants in Bountiful Baskets, a local food co-op run 100 percent by volunteers.
Bountiful Baskets is a non-profit organization that provides fresh fruits, vegetables and other goods to Utahns every week. Baskets are limited and going fast.
The organization was created in Arizona by Sally Stevens and Tayna Jolly in 2006. With its popularity expanding exponentially, Stevens and Jolly opened the doors to Utahns in 2009.
“Bountiful Baskets is a way for families to get fresh food for less,” Stevens said. “Basically people go on the website and make contributions and then we take those and send them to a lot of different wholesalers. People then come and help divide up the cases of produce and they get great deals because they are paying what grocery stores pay.”
The program was created as a way to help people become self-sufficient and healthy at the same time.
“What I like about it is that it’s not a freebie and not a give away,” Stevens said. “It’s people doing it for themselves and doing for each other – that’s awesome.”
Brynne Ruiz, a BYU graduate and creator of EatCleanBeLean.com, receives weekly produce from Bountiful Baskets.
“It has skyrocketed in Utah,” Ruiz said. “I just barely got my basket for Saturday and if you don’t get on early then you don’t get a basket because it’s so popular right now. It works perfect for stay-at-home moms like me.”
The baskets are lined up in two rows back-to-back, one for fruit and the other for vegetables. As the delivery trucks arrive, volunteers help unload the food, distribute it evenly into the baskets and process the orders as customers come to collect their baskets.
“Generally you get five to six different fruits and five to six different vegetables and you get several pounds of each,” said Orem volunteer site coordinator Alisa Ellingson. “We try to mix it up so that you are getting the best deal for your money but also still getting a nice variety of things. Occasionally we will get rare foods like fresh coconuts, jicama, Swiss chard and colored greens.”
Bountiful Baskets requires that a basket be provided to transfer the food and take it home. Personal baskets can range from plastic boxes to Radio Flyer wagons Ellingson said.
Usually a deal like this is to good to be true. However, with Bountiful Baskets the food and pricing is evidence for itself.
“The $15 on a conventional basket will get you $30 to $50 of produce,” Ellingson said. “It’s very high-quality and the same stuff that restaurants and grocery stores are getting – we’re just skipping the middle-man.”
Food prices are on the rise and the misconception that healthy food is more expensive is completely wrong, Ruiz said.
“With the help of Bountiful Baskets and the bulk food section at Winco, I have cut our family budget probably by 25 percent,” Ruiz said.
Bountiful Baskets is not only helping out the pocket books of Utahns but is also helping them fight the battle to stay healthy.
“We haven’t been eating processed foods since mid-December,” Ruiz said. “We have switched to a very clean diet. My husband and I have lost weight and we have happier kids. It helps to have companies like Bountiful Baskets that give me a ton of real food for a good price. We go through that and more with our little family of five.”
Cheri Mauss, volunteer area coordinator for Central Utah, was intrigued with food quality before Bountiful Baskets was even in Utah County.
“All the sites were Bountiful and north,” Mauss said. “My husband and I went up to train and we opened the first site in Utah County in October of 2009. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now.”
Mauss runs the Springville site at Reagan Academy and has an average of 200 orders every week. That amount of orders requires a large number of volunteers.
“We sell out every week,” Mauss said. “We ask that if you’re picking up a basket every week that you should volunteer two hours once a month. It’s great, you get to come out and get your exercise and meet lots of fun people.”
In addition to providing a place for service and fun, Bountiful Baskets offers a healthy alternative to the expensive, unhealthy sugar-filled foods consumed by today’s society.
“For BYU students, I would encourage them to share the basket with a friend or even several roommates,” Mauss said. “It would really help their food budget and then they would be eating healthier. When you’re a student you shouldn’t just be eating Top Ramen and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
There are more than 700 sites nationwide and multiple sites in the Provo-Orem area alone. Baskets must be pre-ordered online and picked up in the time period and location chosen.
“This is a wonderful way to save money for tons of people, but you do have to be punctual,” Stevens said. “Wherever there is reward, there is responsibility and in this case it is being willing to help out occasionally.”
If you are interested in starting your own site or learning more, contact Cheri Mauss at 801-400-6407 or visit BountifulBaskets.org.