Huntsville and area residents have always been generous donors during the annual Project Porchlight Food Drive. This year, despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, was no different.
With COVID-19 restrictions hampering collection efforts—the annual event relies heavily on volunteers both going door-to-door and sorting donations, but for safety those numbers were reduced this year—and the need for people to simply leave their donations on porches or at the end of driveways rather than handing them over to volunteers, what the response would be was unknown.
But just an hour after vehicles filled to the brim began rolling into the three sorting depots at the Salvation Army, Trinity United Church, and the Algonquin Theatre, it was clear that donations this year would be equal to or greater than in past years.
Project Porchlight is an initiative of the Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department. The flashing lights and sirens of fire trucks, ambulances, and police cruisers going door-to-door signal to residents from Huntsville to Port Sydney, Baysville and Dwight that holiday spirit is alive and well in our community. Now in its 32nd year, the food drive helps keep families in need fed well into the following months.
Mike Vadlja, fire prevention officer for the Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department, said they were pleased with the efforts of everyone, from volunteers to those making donations.
Due to physical distancing requirements, it will take longer than usual for donations to be sorted, but regardless of the final poundage, these donations will allow the Salvation Army to comfortably help the hungry in our community through winter and into late spring.
Major Neil Evenden, who with his wife Major Merrilee Evenden became the Salvation Army Huntsville’s newest corps and community ministries officers this year, said, “We are really pleased and thankful for the Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department, for their excellent effort, and just so thankful that during these challenging days for everyone we were able to accomplish this very important community event, and really thankful to the donors who gave us the food. We will now make sure it gets into the right hands.”
Evenden said that although the number of people the organization’s food bank serves this year hasn’t increased much—they will distribute about 360 Christmas hampers and help approximately 150 families each month—they anticipate that those numbers will increase over the next six to twelve months due to lingering effects of the pandemic.
“That’s what we found after the 2008 financial crisis. The people who had unemployment insurance, the people who lost their jobs but had severances, who had some reserves, were able to cope for a period of time as most people try and do and then finally it became unmanageable and they needed assistance. So we need to be prepared for that upsurge,” he said. “We have been able, because of the generosity of the community and the resources we have gotten in, to make sure that those we are assisting we are assisting very well.”
Food security is the organization’s primary focus, to ensure that there is no one in the community who is going hungry, said Everden. “We are there for anyone and everyone who is in need to receive assistance…anyone who needs assistance at Christmas with food or toys, please get in touch with us.”
Christmas is the Salvation Army’s most important season for collecting food and donations, Evenden added. Food and funds from the food drive, Moose FM’s annual radiothon, the kettle program, and other donations is “what carries us…When COVID hit in March, we were prepared because we had all of those things in place and that has allowed us to carry on efficiently and effectively through these beginning months. We continue to be blessed by the community support.”
The Salvation Army’s annual kettle program will be on the streets soon, with the addition of tap machines that will allow for a $5 donation with a debit or credit card.
If volunteers weren’t able to pick up your food drive donation this year, you can drop it in the bins outside one of these locations:
-Huntsville Fire Hall Station #1, 1 Payne Drive;
-The Salvation Army in Huntsville, 4 Mary Street E;
-Port Sydney Fire Hall, 387 South Mary Lake Road; and
-Lake of Bays Fire Halls at 1007 Limberlost Road and 1230 Fox Point Road in Huntsville and 12 University Street in Baysville.
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