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Raffle for Gigantic Gift Basket at Bileau's to Benefit Struggling Soup Kitchen

2011 fundraising basket to benefit Because He Lives is the biggest yet, in a year when it may be most needed.

The owners of  are doing their best to help feed Woonsocket's hungry once again this year by selling tickets for a Christmas Eve raffle for their largest gift basket to date, with proceeds to benefit a struggling local charity.

Last year, the small flower and gift shop on Diamond Hill Road was able to to Because He Lives Ministries, a Woonsocket-based soup kitchen operated from the basement of for more than 25 years by Pat Dempster. The ministry was estimated to feed more than 200 of the city's neediest residents each year before plumbing problems at the facility shut down their operations last February. Not one for defeat, Dempster took her kitchen on the road, throughout the summer from , and currently, from the church's parking lot 

With the ministry's struggles over the past year, co-owner Jeanne Bis believes the fundraiser is more important than ever."There are so many hungry people right now," said Bis.

Although  has found a new home and hopes to relocate soon, permits must first be secured, a technicality which cancelled this year's Thanksgiving meal. 

"With the situation that happened this Thanksgiving, you sit there eating your dinner and just hoping you can do something, which is part of why I wanted to make the fundraiser even bigger," said Bis, who chose the organization as a recipient for the past two years because she is inspired by Dempster's work.

"When I saw how she was going to the park to deliver sandwiches... she's just a very dedicated lady," Bis said. "And it's local, so I think it's a great cause."

The over-sized prize, valued at $660, holds 46 items from home decor to kitchen essentials (including a crock pot,) toys and throw blankets. Bis purchases the gifts herself and than reaches out to everyone in her network to help sell the tickets.

"Last year I got on the phone and called people, including all of the local politicians." So far this year, Bis has relied on friends, family and loyal customers to help out. Her sister, Joyce Laperle, has sold $150 in raffle tickets at . When she asked her insurance agent, Hunter Insurance in Manville, to help out, they came back with $70.

"That's how we get it done," she said. "You call in a lot of favors. It's not all Bileau's!"

Thanks to help from radio host John Dionne, who has promoted the fundraiser during his program on , many people have stopped in looking for the basket.

"I don't even have to show them the basket anymore. They know," said Laperle.

Still, with a downed economy and high unemployment, it's a hard year for charities. "Some people that normally spend $5 can only afford one ticket," Bis said. "Things are tough this year."

Tickets for the Christmas raffle are $1 per chance or $5 for six chances and can be purchased at 655 Diamond Hill Rd. until Dec 24.

"It's a good feeling," Bis said of the fundraiser. "It's a little bit of work, but it's so satifying to be able to help out. Every little bit helps."

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