Pandemic does not slow efforts to help food pantry

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By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Canal Winchester sixth grade middle school students are not letting a global pandemic shut down their efforts to help those in need throughout the community.

Giving back means getting back out into the community for a city-wide Brock Walk food drive the morning of July 16. Volunteer teams consisting of sixth graders and their families will canvas neighborhoods, placing donation bags and fliers on doors on July 15 and then return the next day for any donations left outside before 9 a.m.

Volunteers never knock on doors asking for donations and the process allows for very little contact between the volunteer and the homeowner.

Last fall, a little over $5,000 was raised through a flower sale to benefit a spring grocery trip to purchase supplies needed by the city’s Human Needs food pantry.

Due to the outbreak, that event was cancelled, but $4,000 was donated to the pantry during a May matching Community Week fundraiser sponsored by a local Boy Scout troop. The remaining $1,000 was donated to the BrockStrong Foundation.

“We had a spring flower sale planned too but decided to cancel that since so many people were struggling economically during that time,” said teacher Kelly Best. “The pandemic has certainly taken away or altered so many events people were looking forward to, so we wanted to try to give this back to our students if we could do so safely.”

Best said the number one question she asked when school doors were shuttered in March was regarding the fate of the Brock Walk.

“It feels good to finally be able to say, Yes,” said Best. “We knew the BrockStrong Foundation would gladly adopt this project for the summer and that the pantry would help us in any way we needed, so we just had to figure out how to adapt it to make it happen as safely as possible. We also collect any empty bags still hanging outside. Additionally, working at the pantry afterward was an option this year, but we have cut that number in half and will space out according to health guidelines.”

Best said most sixth grade families opted to adopt a route but not work at the pantry.

In their place are high schoolers, staff of Sycamore Creek Church and BrockStrong volunteers.

“We started with about 3,000 houses and our sixth-grade families filled all of the spots before we even offered the sign-up to other BrockStrong volunteers,” said Best. “We have since added an additional 1,000 houses.”

Typically, students take care of all of the prep work for the project, spending time s making thousands of donation bags, researching walking routes, placing and collecting their donation bags and then working at the pantry afterward to count, sort and box all of the donations they collected.

This year, however, a lot of that prep work was taken care of by BrockStrong Foundation volunteers, who created all of the donation bags.

“When students aren’t receiving meals at school, the demand at the pantry automatically increases, so we are looking for all types of donations, but certainly kid-friendly options will be super helpful,” said Best. “Breakfast foods are always needed at the pantry, so cereal, Pop-Tarts, and granola bars would be beneficial.”

The list also includes peanut butter and jelly, microwavable meals, Hamburger Helper, fruit cups, and snacks. Personal hygiene items and household items such as laundry detergent, dish soap, and trash bags are needed as well.

According to Best, the Brock Walk project has become crucial to the pantry for the summer months when students are not receiving meals at school.

“Our goal is to fill the pantry’s shelves for the entire summer and to ensure our students have ample access to food,” said Best. “Each year we work with the BrockStrong Foundation and the food pantry try to find a way to make the project more successful. Last year resulted in the single largest food collection the pantry has received with 22,734 items being collected by last year’s group. I’m pretty sure that’s a record Brock Johnson would be proud of.”

Best does not anticipate breaking any records this year, as many people are financially struggling and students are not covering nearly as many houses as they typically would with a full sixth grade class.

“However, we always tell our students what they collect is more than what they started with and it’s their willingness to get out there and try to make a difference in their community that really matters,” said Best. “For the students, it’s typically about numbers – they want to crush a goal, but for the school, the BrockStrong Foundation, and the food pantry, it’s about teaching kids to give back and help out when they can.”

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