Organizers of an annual food drive have set their loftiest goal yet - to collect 50,000 pounds of donated food in a single month.
The Bag-A-Thon, which benefits Tucson's Interfaith Community Services, is a collaboration of local Edward Jones financial advisers' offices.
On Saturday, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and American Heritage Girls from all over the city gathered at the Edward Jones office at 10355 N. La Cañada Drive in Oro Valley to drop off and sort food for the sixth annual Bag-A-Thon.
ICS maintains a pantry for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona to help meet the needs of hungry families in Pima County. Each year the Bag-A-Thon's food donation goal has increased in order to keep up with demand.
Bag-A-Thon founder and Edward Jones Financial Adviser Ken Blanchard said the event is a way of teaching the community to give back to those in need.
In its first year the Bag-A-Thon gathered 2,000 pounds of food. Now, a handful of years later, the efforts have skyrocketed.
It all began when Blanchard, whose office was used in Saturday's event, decided to donate canned goods to the food bank. He said a life-changing event inspired him to create the Bag-A-Thon.
"I showed up with my box of food to donate and at the same time a man approached to claim his food box," Blanchard said. "He came back two minutes later and returned the box."
Blanchard said the food bank representative asked the man why he was bringing back some of the food.
"The man said, 'My family and I live in a car, my wife and two kids.' And he said, 'I can't cook the pasta and I can't cook the rice. I didn't want it to go to waste so I wanted to give it back.' He said it wasn't fair for him to keep food that others could really use."
At that moment Blanchard decided he needed to do something more, and that if this man, who needed food, could give back, then so could he.
And he has: Since its inception in 2007, the Bag-A-Thon has collected 135,000 pounds of donations.
"This is one of the biggest events of the year and the food bank relies on these supplies to feed the families that come in," ICS Food Bank Coordinator Curt Balko said.
Food bank supplies are more meager than ever, Balko said. The Bag-A-Thon, which continues through Nov. 3, will be one of the main suppliers for food boxes come the holidays.
"This is critical for our supply. Our food bank is terribly low right now going into the holiday season," ICS Volunteer Resource Manager Sandi Brickley said.
ICS plans to distribute double the number of food packages in November and December and, for the first time ever, give out meat.
According to the Association of Arizona Food Banks, one in five households in the state struggles to obtain enough food.
"We will stop having these drives when people aren't going hungry in our city anymore," Blanchard said. "It's as simple as that. When people aren't waiting in line anymore, we'll stop."
At Saturday's event, the youth groups collected almost 5,000 pounds of food in just under three hours.
This is the first year that Girl Scout troops around the city have gotten collectively involved. The Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona is celebrating its 100th year anniversary and is commemorating that milestone by aiming to collect 100 pounds of food per troop for the drive.
Troops that participated will earn a patch for their efforts.
"This is an event where the girls can actually get involved and sort the food. It makes them feel like they're making a difference," Girl Scout Community Action Specialist Kristi Pallack said. "We wanted them to understand that there are kids in our city who are going to bed hungry. So this event means a lot to them."
Edward Jones offices Tucson-wide are collecting food all month, along with 20 different schools that are holding their own drives.
A list of drop-off locations is at icstucson.org online.
A collection drive and breakfast will conclude this year's Bag-A-Thon on Nov. 3 at Blanchard's Edward Jones office.
"It's just the right thing to do. We're not asking for a few people to do a lot, we're asking for a lot of people to do a little and every little bit makes a fabulous difference," Blanchard said.
How to help
• What: Bag-A-Thon Community Collection Event and Breakfast
• When: Drop off nonperishable food from 8 a.m. to noon Nov. 3 at Ken Blanchard's Edward Jones office at 10355 N. La Cañada Drive, Suite 181
• Other collection sites: A complete list of drop-off locations is at icstucson.org online
• Info: Call Interfaith Community Services, 297-6049
Emi Komiya is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at email@example.com
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