By Linda Dillman
If you live in Canal Winchester and happen to find a grocery sack on your doorstep June 8, do not be surprised, but take a few moments to fill it up with boxed and canned goods and put it back out on June 9 for the annual Brock Walk.
“The Brock Walk is our biggest food drive of the year,” said Canal Winchester Human Services Director Aletha Mullins. “This drive provides much needed food for the summer months and into fall. Due to the rising cost of food, we have seen our numbers increase at The Community Food Panty. This food drive will help fulfill that need. Since 2014, this food drive has brought in just over 140,000 items.
Volunteers canvass the city on June 8 with the bags and then return on June 9 to pick up donations.
The Brock Walk (named in memory of student Brock Johnson) began as a 4H project—the Canal Winchester Middle School Pantry Project – in 2014 when a Canal Winchester student and her mother saw an ongoing need. Middle school teachers turned the drive into a learning experience for students, who now collect money to purchase food items.
“In 2015, our former superintendent challenged our team of sixth grade students to find a real-world problem in our community and solve it by the end of the school year,” said teacher Kelly Best. “After looking at various local issues, our students settled on helping the food pantry because we learned through research that the pantry was running out of food during the summer when students weren’t receiving breakfast and lunch at school, creating an even greater demand for food assistance in our town. It was the most logical choice because this was a problem directly impacting our students and their peers.”
In 2016, the BrockStrong Foundation joined forces with the middle school’s sixth grade class and Human Services to aid in the fight against hunger in the local community.
Best said the project evolved over the years to include various aspects of learning for students. As part of the project, students create the special donation bags that are placed on as many doors as possible in the Canal Winchester area.
A flyer on the front of the bag asks the resident to fill the bag with food items if they can, and then place the bag outside the next morning when a volunteer returns to pick it up.
Best said organizers wanted to make donating easy— “Here’s a bag, fill it up, place it outside, and we’ll come get it.”
Donations are taken directly to the food pantry where volunteers wait to unbag, count, sort, and box everything up. In the beginning, 2,500 donation bags were placed at doorsteps and 6,000 items were collected. Now it is nearly 6,000 bags and in 2022, over 24,000 items were collected.
“Each year, Canal Winchester Human Services speaks to the students about The Community Food Panty and its current needs,” said Mullins. “This conversation, along with a field trip to Mid-Ohio Food Collective brings awareness to the students as to why this project is so important. Students are broken up into groups and have a budget that they must follow when shopping at Meijer.”
Students and teachers work throughout the year on raising money from fall and spring flower sales. Profits from the sales enable students to go on the shopping trips.
This year, students have $6,000 to spend at the grocery store and must adhere to a pre-established budget. They track and calculate their spending while in store to make the most of their funds.
Volunteers are needed on both days so they can place bags on designated routes and return to that same route to collect donations left outside. For information, visit the Brockstrong Foundation Facebook page. Since this is a student project, sign-up is released to students first and then to the public a week later.
“This event is important on so many levels,” said Best. “It teaches our students vital lessons about compassion and giving that are far more impactful than any lesson we can teach from a textbook and they learn firsthand the result of what happens when everyone comes together for an important cause.”
According to Best, students also learn life skills such as shopping on a tight budget and having to make impromptu changes to a shopping list when something is out of stock or the price has unexpectedly increased.
“What started as a project focused on filling the pantry shelves for the summer has grown to filling the shelves for many months after that,” said Best. “Our teachers didn’t intend for this to be an annual event and we never really expected to be doing the same project nine years later, but to see what it has become and how many students and volunteers show up to make it happen, makes the Brock Walk something we simply can’t replace.”