- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

Gloria Coronado knows how to take a few food items, tissue paper, some small gifts and a wicker basket and transform them into a premium gift basket.

Mrs. Coronado, 40, is the gift basket designer at Elite Occasions, a specialty gift-basket shop in Georgetown.

She spends her days assembling each requested basket usually within 15 to 30 minutes, completing 35 to 45 each day.

Mrs. Coronado, who speaks little English, starts her morning earlier this week preparing her work table for an influx of regular and seasonal orders.

She lives in the District on a permanent residency visa. The Guatemalan citizen, who is applying for U.S. citizenship, has been working at the shop since 2000.

She starts with a two-basket combination order for a family with a new baby boy. One basket, for the parents, is a “Four Seasons” pick that includes cheese and crackers, cookies, chocolates, and almond butter toffee for $75.

Mrs. Coronado takes a green supermarket basket and wanders through the shop’s aisles, which are filled with candies, gourmet foods, toys, mementos and spa treatments.

She collects her essential items and the tan basket and begins putting construction and shredded paper inside the basket.

After stuffing the basket, Mrs. Coronado places apples, pears, oranges and the other foods into the basket with precision. “It’s important to me that each basket is perfect,” she says.

She tapes the items onto the basket and wraps it with cellophane. Once the cellophane is tied at the top and extra pieces are tucked away, Mrs. Coronado puts the order onto the courier tray.

Most of the orders that come into the shop are shipped out the same day, she says.

Mrs. Coronado then tackles the $135 “My First Wheels” basket for the same order. This ensemble is in a 21-inch Radio Flyer wagon.

Mrs. Coronado puts down more construction paper before lining the wagon with a blue polyester blanket.

Madeline Vadkerty, the shop’s owner and president, says the paper serves as a foundation for the assembly. The baskets “are really constructed this way for overall stability,” Ms. Vadkerty says as she stops to check on Mrs. Coronado’s progress.

After the wagon is sufficiently stable, Mrs. Coronado places a blue stuffed rabbit, a stacked-ring toy set and a rattle into the wagon. She tapes down the items, sprinkles some blue tinsel onto the rabbit and places a silver photo frame under the rabbit’s arms.

Mrs. Coronado wraps the wagon with more cellophane and places the completed product onto the courier tray.

She says lots of practice and instruction in the past four years have helped her make the baskets quickly, adding she knew nothing about baskets when she joined the shop.

Mrs. Coronado, who would not disclose her salary, worked in several cleaning jobs before she came across her current position.

“For me, each basket is the same, where I feel that each one is easy. But when I first started, I had a hard time with them. Now it’s not as hard.”

The next order is a $50 get-well basket for someone who had his tonsils removed. Mrs. Coronado takes a box designed as a mock doctor’s bag and stuffs it with shredded paper.

The order has a special request for all kosher items in addition to items sent by the clients buying the package, such as markers, a marker board and a bell. Mrs. Coronado adds two apples and pears, a box of chocolate-chip cookies, candy sticks, salsa and hot cocoa mix.

Although she uses a guide book, Mrs. Coronado says she has a general technique and idea for how the items will fit into the space. “There are some things I look in the book for, but the end result is up to me. It’s the part of the job that I like,” she says.

Another order is a $150 customized gift basket for Anna Escobedo Cabral, whom President Bush nominated last month to be the U.S. treasurer.

The patriotic-themed basket from a friend is filled first with the construction paper. Mrs. Coronado then places a white chocolate replica of the Capitol dome, red, white and blue popcorn, pretzels, cookie wafers, smoked salmon, cheese, crackers and chocolate coins.

She stacks the treats so more of the coins show in the front of the basket. Everything is secured with more tape before Mrs. Coronado applies her cellophane wrap followed by the company’s logo sticker.

Mrs. Coronado will crank out another 20 to 30 orders by the end of the day while starting on holiday orders that already are pouring in from corporations and individuals.

“Now is certainly my busier time of the year, but I like it,” Mrs. Coronado says.

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