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Volunteers Yvonne Solt and Kris Burkemper assembled Alleluia Baskets for 3- to 5-year-olds on Feb. 22 at the headquarters of Alleluia Baskets in O’Fallon. Alleluia Baskets works with about 130 organizations to provide the baskets of goods to children and senior citizens who are underserved in the community.
Volunteers Yvonne Solt and Kris Burkemper assembled Alleluia Baskets for 3- to 5-year-olds on Feb. 22 at the headquarters of Alleluia Baskets in O’Fallon. Alleluia Baskets works with about 130 organizations to provide the baskets of goods to children and senior citizens who are underserved in the community.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Alleluia Baskets volunteers give of time, talents and treasure to bring joy to others at Easter

It’s a typical evening for the Flerlage family. Beverly, Mike and Luke, 7, sit together on their living room floor, sorting through piles of bright purple and green baskets, snacks, small toys, socks, lip balm and more.

They’re preparing the items for Alleluia Baskets, an O’Fallon-based volunteer organization that creates Easter baskets for children and seniors in need. In the past four years, the Flerlage family — enthusiastically led by Luke — has made the work part of daily family life.

Earlier that week, Beverly and Luke used some recent monetary donations to go shopping at Walmart. They checked in with Alleluia Baskets founder Karen Mesler: “She lets us know the most needed items, and we find the best product,” Luke said.

Luke started volunteering with his parents at age 3, helping to put together the baskets at Alleluia Baskets headquarters. Before long, he decided he wanted to do more. He started collecting donations from family and friends, ending up with more than 1,000 items in the course of a few months. So he dreamed even bigger, setting a goal of filling up a box trailer with donations; he squeezed more than 12,000 items into it before delivering them last February.

Luke’s boundless generosity has challenged Beverly and Mike, and a whole host of extended family and friends, to examine the way they give of their time, talents and treasure.

“Luke will say something, and we’ll be like — why not? We can do it,” Beverly said. “We always say we’ve been abundantly blessed, so why not help others? It makes you stop and think.”

A leap of faith

Alleluia Baskets started in 2004 as a small project for Karen Mesler’s eighth-grade PSR class at All Saints Parish in St. Peters.

Mesler
Mesler wanted to encourage her eighth-grade students to do something for others at Easter, not just Christmas. “I empowered them and said, ‘I’m not even going to call your parents — you guys bring in what you want to put in an Easter basket, and we’re going to fill them.’”

Alleluia Baskets is a nonprofit organization that puts together Easter baskets for children and senior citizens who are underserved in the community. Alleluia Baskets offers the chance to practice almsgiving of time, talent and funds, founder Karen Mesler said.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
The goal was to make 12 baskets to be delivered by the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. They filled 25. “I should have known then God’s plan,” Mesler chuckled.

In the 20 years since, the project has grown out of the school, Mesler’s home, and two other spaces before moving into its current 4,100-square-foot headquarters in O’Fallon two years ago. This year, Alleluia Baskets is working with about 130 partner organizations that have requested baskets, including several St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences, transitional housing shelters, low-income schools, memory care centers and more. Mesler estimates they’ll deliver between 13,000-15,000 baskets this Easter season for children of all ages and vulnerable senior adults.

Seven years ago, Karen quit her job as the Coordinator of Religious Education at All Saints to devote her energy entirely to Alleluia Baskets — with no pay. It was a leap of faith to go down to a one-income family, she said.

“We just decided, my husband and I, this is where our hearts are. And this is where we want to be,” she said.

Alleluia Baskets offers the chance to practice almsgiving of time, talent and funds, Mesler said. “People will come in and say, ‘This is all I have to give you, is this one thing.’ And I look at them and say, ‘This is the one thing I didn’t have yesterday. Thank you for doing that.’ And I’ll say the same thing to a person who walks in and says, ‘Here’s a $500 check.’”

God shows up in big and little ways, she said. Mesler recalled a few years back, not being able to finish a batch of baby baskets scheduled to go out the next morning because they ran out of animal crackers. “I just laid my head down and thought, ‘OK God, if you want us to have animal crackers, we’ll have them. If not, you’re going to tell me what to do,’” she said. “And I woke up the next morning

Volunteers Anne Schappe and Denise Masterson, parishoners at All Saints in St. Peters, loaded boxes of Alleluia Baskets on Feb. 22 at the headquarters of Alleluia Baskets in O’Fallon. Alleluia Baskets started in 2004 as a small project for Karen Mesler’s eighth grade PSR class at All Saints Parish and will put together between 13,000 and 15,000 this year.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
with two cases of animal crackers on my front porch. I told this story for almost a decade. And then a lady came to me and said, ‘I did that. I was driving home, and someone told me to drop these off at your house right then before I went all the way home.’”

Mesler and her husband also give of their own money to cover “the holes that need to be filled,” she said. “Because we know it’s God work; we know we’re doing good for others.”

On Feb. 22, volunteers were busy at headquarters filling baskets for 3- to 5-year-old children. Baskets are tailored for each age group, but every single one gets a small tag tied on that reads simply: God loves you.

“We don’t advertise Alleluia Baskets, or my name, we don’t do any of that,” Mesler said. “We just want them to know God loves them.”

Yvonne Solt is a member of Let’s Crochet and Knit, a group of women who gather at the JoAnn Fabric store in St. Peters to work on projects together. The group makes a steady stream of lap blankets, baby loveys, slap bracelets, coasters and more for Alleluia Baskets. That day, several members volunteered to assemble baskets, too.

“We’ve seen, for example, at Youth in Need, a lot of the mothers don’t have the family support, don’t have the grandmothers who would be making them crocheted things,” Solt said. “…You know, homemade is happiness. And we put a lot of love in every stitch we do.”

From left, volunteers Lori Hinner, Yvonne Solt and Dale Erickson assembled Alleluia Baskets for 3- to 5-year-olds on Feb. 22 at the headquarters of Alleluia Baskets in O’Fallon.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Sister Rose Mercurio, SSND, has been volunteering regularly with Alleluia Baskets since retiring four years ago. She stuffed small bags with candy alongside volunteers from Community Living Inc. in St. Peters, which provides services and opportunities for people with disabilities. “Every little bitty thing is really important to make the outcome,” Sister Rose said.

The simplicity of the Alleluia Baskets mission makes almsgiving attainable, she said. “Sometimes (people) see it on Facebook, or if I’m talking to somebody, all of a sudden that person will say, ‘I can do that,’” Sister Rose said. “And then they have a whole slew of people they reach out to, and then you might get a donation of socks, donation of toys, stuffed animals. You have no idea who it is. But somebody told somebody who told somebody. It’s discipleship.”

Open hearts

Luke is still dreaming big. In September 2023, he and his parents hosted a family trivia night fundraiser. It was Luke’s idea — he’d seen his parents go to trivia nights and thought that kids should be able to take part, too.

They decided that $5,000 was a realistic goal for the first trivia night. But then, Luke heard that Mesler needed $10,000 for a new trailer, so he promptly told the Alleluia Baskets board that he’d raise that much.

“We asked him after the meeting, ‘Luke, why $10,000?’” Beverly said. “He said, ‘Didn’t you hear her? That’s what she needs.’”

In the end, the event netted $11,659.50, Luke rattled off without hesitation.

The trivia money funded the purchase of a “Hop Up” trailer, that in the coming months will be filled with donations and put on the road to Lincoln and Jefferson counties, where parents in need will be able to come create their own Easter baskets for their children.

Luke has gotten his friends involved, too, and by extension, their families. Their fellow parishioners at St. Mary in Hawk Point have been supportive; there’s a donation box for Alleluia Baskets in the back of church. The second annual family trivia night is already on the schedule for September.

Luke Flerlage, 7, and his mother, Beverly Flerlage, sorted items for use in Alleluia Baskets on Feb. 26 at the Flerlage home near Hawk Point. The Flerlages, who are parishioners at St. Mary in Hawk Point, collect donations and raise funds in other ways for use in Alleluia Baskets.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
“Look at the impact of (Luke) being involved,” Mike said. “Not just the money, but the kids who hear Luke’s story and collect items for Alleluia Baskets instead of getting birthday presents for their birthday parties.”

Their faith is what makes them able to say yes to a life of generosity, Beverly said. “I think to pull off a project the size (Luke) wants to pull off, you better believe,” Beverly said with a laugh. “…The money will be there, one way or the other. With that faith to lean on, you can say, OK, I see this really good deal, and I know that seven kids now can have amazing Easter baskets. And do I worry about the money in my wallet? It’ll be there.”

They’re confident that if they continue to be generous, the Lord will continue to take care of them. Beverly recalled Luke explaining to someone how to put together a good Easter basket. “The first thing he said, without hesitating: ‘We’ve got to start with love.’”

Luke nodded, and added: “Give with an open heart.”


>> Boxes of Mercy

Another almsgiving opportunity can be found through the Boxes of Mercy initiative, a service project for the Eucharistic Revival in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Parishioners around the archdiocese are invited to donate supplies through the box of mercy at their parish. When the eucharistic pilgrims — pilgrims who will be traveling across the country with the Blessed Sacrament on the way to the Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis — arrive in St. Louis, they will distribute the boxes to refugees in our area.

The deadline to donate is May 31.

Nonperishables donation list:

Rice

Flour

Sugar

Baking powder

Baking soda

Vinegar

Cooking oil

Tissues

Cotton balls

Paper towels

Bar soap

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Hair brush or comb

Wash cloth

Hand towels

Kitchen towels

Can opener

Measuring spoons

Measuring cups

Mixing bowl

Baking utensils

Cooking utensils

Scissors

Pencils

Pens

Volunteers Kris Burkemper, a parishioner at All Saints in St. Peters, and Dale Erickson of O’Fallon, assembled Alleluia Baskets for 3- to 5-year-olds on Feb. 22 at the headquarters of Alleluia Baskets in O’Fallon.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Rulers

Notepads

Small first aid kit

$10 or $25 gift cards for drug store, grocery store or gas station


>> Alleluia Baskets Almsgiving

Alleluia Baskets collects donations of money and basket items year-round. Volunteers also give of their time to shop, fill baskets and more.

To learn more, see a list of needed items or to sign up to volunteer, visit alleluiabaskets.org.

To donate via Alleluia Basket’s Amazon Wishlist, visit stlreview.com/4bS9oiq


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