GREENVILLE — The holidays will be a little brighter this year thanks to efforts of several area businesses which took part in the Montcalm Challenge Food Drive.
According to organizer Stephen Foster, the annual “food drop” was started in 1991 by Federal-Mogul and R.J. Tower Company as a friendly challenge to see which company could raise the most food items, per employee, for area food pantries.
“They had been doing things on their own, but decided to challenge each other,” Foster said. “The loser had to buy doughnuts.”
Over the years the program gathered steam. Greenville Tool and Die and Stafford Media Solutions came on board in 1993 with other businesses becoming involved at later dates.
The stress these days isn’t so much about obtaining the most food donations, but rather gathering the food items most needed by the 18 local food pantries served by the effort.
“The emphasis is more on raising money,” Foster said. “The reason for that is we now have sources like Jim Cole, who buy things for us wholesale and finds the kinds of food these pantries really need.”
On Wednesday, representatives from all 18 local pantries gathered at the old Meijer store on Lafayette Street to collect more than 22,000 food items that were collected by the effort.
“Regardless of the size of the pantry, they all get the same things today,” Foster said. “Also, Meijer stores have been particularly generous this year and each pantry will be getting a $200 gift card to Meijer to use for the purchase of food.”
In addition to all the food distributed on Wednesday, the Montcalm Challenge Food Drive has raised an additional $30,000, which will be used for another three food drops in 2013.
“We’ll probably do one in March, one in June and then another one in September,” Foster said. The exact dates of future food drops will be determined later, based upon the needs of the various pantries.
“We wish we could provide all the needs of the pantries,” Foster said. “Sadly, we’re not even close to that. We fall far short of that, but with the kind of numbers we do generate, we manage to make a pretty big impact.”
Foster added that the number of needy in the area seems to increase each year and despite the efforts of groups like Montcalm Challenge and many area churches, some pantries have been in danger of closing because they are running out of food.
The effort is coordinated through EightCAP Inc., which makes all donations tax deductible.
According to EightCAP Community Services Coordinator Tammie Dann, the need for efforts of this type has never been greater.
“We’ve seen a lot of need recently,” Dann said. “We’ve had a couple pantries that had to close down briefly because they were out of food.
“The need is unbelievable right now. The unfortunate thing is, we have not received a lot of our funding, both from the state and federal government. It’s hard to turn people away. Thank God we have all these pantries that do help the people in their areas.”
For more information, or to donate, call Dann at (616) 754-9315, ext. 3358.