Thousands of Scouts across Mecklenburg County will unite next weekend in an effort to feed people in need living in the Charlotte region.
The Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts of America will host its annual Scouting for Food drive on Feb. 1, a Saturday, where Scouts will travel door to door throughout neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County collecting non-perishable food items for local nonprofit Loaves & Fishes. The Charlotte-based organization works with a network of 19 food pantries in Mecklenburg County to provide a week’s supply of nutritious meals to individuals and families experiencing a crisis.
In addition, all Harris Teeters in Mecklenburg County along with several area churches and shopping centers are participating in Scouting for Food. Harris Teeter stores will house collection bins Feb. 1 to 9.
Donors also can bring food to various locations – including Philadelphia Presbyterian Church, at 11501 Bain School Road in Mint Hill, and The Arboretum shopping center, at Providence and Pineville-Matthews roads in Charlotte, near Matthews – on Feb. 1 and 2, Saturday and Sunday. Scouts will be on hand to collect donations at the drop-off sites from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Matthews United Methodist Church-based Boy Scout Troop 39 is looking to have another huge impact this year – so big, in fact, that a semi-truck is being sent out to the church to handle all the donations the troop, along with Pack 214, expect to collect. They brought in more than 31,000 pounds last year.
“They’re excited,” committee chairman Joe Culpepper said of the some 60 Boy Scouts and 50 Cub Scouts involved at his location. Troop 39 will canvas neighborhoods such as Matthews Plantation, Brightmoor and Windermere among many others.
“Last night (Monday, Jan. 20) we actually put the instructions on the bags,” Culpepper said, “and this Saturday we’ll take them and put them out in the neighborhoods.”
Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, said Scouting for Food has been an annual event for about 20 years – and is the largest annual food drive for the nonprofit, which fed 105,015 people in 2013.
“I think our pantries would certainly go bare (without the drive), and we would have to either purchase a lot more food or give out a lot less food,” Howard said. “There’s no question that we couldn’t operate as normal without this food drive. We rely on it.”
Harris Teeter printed about 160,000 grocery bags this year for Scout troops to distribute to homes in selected Mecklenburg County neighborhoods next week. Residents can fill the bags with food and leave them on their doorstep on Feb. 1, when the Scouts will return to collect the items.
Howard said the items Loaves & Fishes needs most include canned meat, canned pasta, canned fruit, cereal and fruit juice, though the nonprofit will accept donations of any nonperishables.
Loaves & Fishes has “drastically” seen an increase in need among the community since 2008, Howard said, though the need has recently started to level off.
“Most of our clients are either the working poor or (were) recently working and lost their jobs or had their hours cut back, or (have been facing) some special emergency that took all their money and didn’t leave them with enough to buy food,” she said, adding children younger than 18 make up about 48 percent of the people Loaves & Fishes
But while the number of Loaves & Fishes clients has increased, so has the number of Scouts who participate in Scouting for Food. More than 4,000 Scouts helped out with the event last year, collecting a record 264,000 pounds of food.
Del Whittaker, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Boy Scouts Council, said the Scouts look forward to Scouting for Food annually, and troops encourage more members to get on board with the project each year. As the Scouts participate in the initiative year after year, they challenge themselves to collect more food than the previous years.
“The boys want to do more than they did last year … obviously, the more people who get behind (Scouting for Food), the more popular it becomes and the better it is,” Whittaker said.
But Whittaker said the event is more than another project for the Boy Scouts – the most important aspect of Scouting for Food, he said, concerns the individuals who benefit from the food collected.
“You can talk about collecting ‘X’ number of pounds of food, but how many people are being fed? That truly is the real story,” he said. “It’s important to us because of the cause – the more we collect, obviously, we’re helping more people and families.”
Find more information at www.mccscouting.org/ScoutPrograms/Good
Turns/ScoutingforFood.aspx or www.loavesandfishes.org.