Bountiful Baskets

Bountiful Baskets

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Sam Saibini Christmas Food Basket Program turns 90 this December.

For Jana Maas, traditions such as the Sam Saibini Christmas Food Basket Program are so important that even retirement won’t get in the way of giving back.

“If this gives you any indication, I’m going to be retiring in a couple months, and I am still going to be involved and be part of the whole process,” says Maas, who’s been a firefighter with the Reno Fire Department for 21 years. “Reno is the only fire department that I know of that does this in Northern Nevada. This is something I take a lot of pride in.”

Pride, indeed: The annual program that honors Saibini’s legacy by delivering holiday food baskets to less-fortunate families turns 90 years old this December.

In 1932, Saibini joined the department as a firefighter at the height of the Great Depression, a time when people were tearing down fences just to obtain wood to burn for heat. Saibini saw a need and asked the captains at each station to help him provide Christmas dinners for families, and firefighters each donated $1.

The late Saibini retired in 1968 as a battalion chief, but the program still was going strong. Decades later, the program now helps feed 200 families each December, with each box containing more than $50 worth of food.

“Back then, it started off more as just a Christmas meal. We’ve tried to evolve it where it at least provides a reasonable-size family a week’s worth of food,” Maas notes. “They do get a ham, but they get other essentials in there, like cans of fruit, spaghetti sauce and noodles, and things like bread, eggs, and milk.”

Families throughout Washoe County, or even as far away as Pyramid Lake and outside the county in Fernley, are selected through referrals from counselors at local schools and various nonprofits, Maas says, including The Children’s Cabinet, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living.

And it truly is a family tradition. Saibini’s daughter, Madolyn Pardini, and his many grandchildren, nieces, and nephews donate money each year and help build the baskets before firefighters head out in engines and trucks to deliver them.

Current and former Reno Fire employees and their families gathered December 18, 2021, at Fire Station 21 to take part in the 89th Sam Saibini Christmas Food Basket Program

The department partners with larger businesses in town such as WinCo and Costco for food and boxes, and Reno-based Sierra Meat & Seafood has helped in recent years by offering discounts on ham steaks.

“All funding comes from current and retired Reno Fire people and their families; we don’t take outside donations, so it’s truly a Reno Fire program,” Maas says. “It’s something we all look forward to around Christmastime. Everybody gets into the holiday spirit.”

The 90th Sam Saibini Christmas Food Basket Program is scheduled for Dec. 17 at Reno Fire Department Station 21 at 2501 Mill St.

 

Kevin MacMillan is a Reno-based writer/editor who makes it a priority each winter to donate to nonprofits focused on food insecurity throughout our communities.

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