(Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)
By Travis Gulbrandson
Last year, the Vermillion Food Pantry served 3,396 people.
As of last week, it served 3,526 people – and there are still more than two months left in the year.
This figure makes Coyoteopoly's annual food drive – pick-up for which takes place this Saturday – all the more imperative.
"The need just gets bigger and bigger," said pantry director Mary Berglin.
A total of 363 people were fed last month alone, but Berglin said there were at least three months where the total was more than 400.
"I just wonder how long a town of 12,000 people can support this food pantry," she said. "We don't get any city money and we don't get any county money."
What the Vermillion Food Pantry does get is donations from area individuals, stores and restaurants. The pantry is applying for grants, as well.
The Coyoteopoly food drive is a big help, too. Coyoteopoly CEO Jeff Heier said Berglin told him this drive is the pantry's biggest of the year.
"That really puts it in perspective how important it is that we do well at this," he said.
Last year, Coyoteopoly brought in 5,513 food items and raised $2,061 for the pantry, and Heier said he hopes to do even better this year.
On Sunday, the drive sent approximately 50 volunteers out to leave approximately 3,000 donation bags on doorknobs throughout the community.
"Every house, every apartment, should have gotten a bag on their door," Heier said.
Those bags will be picked up Saturday starting at 9 a.m.
"Picking up the bags isn't going to take very long," Heier said. "For the most part, you go around, you see a bag, you pick it up. It goes a lot faster (than putting them out).
"But, after we pick them all up we've got to go to the food pantry and sort through everything, put it in its category – and there are approximately 30 different categories," he said. "That'll take a little bit of time, but I think it'll be a lot of fun."
The food pantry gave the Coyoteopoly students a list of the different items they're seeking, which included tuna, canned meat, chunky and regular soup, crackers, hamburger helper, scalloped potatoes, boxed mashed potatoes, chili, macaroni and cheese, pasta and rice, cereal, canned fruit, muffin mix and peanut butter and jelly.
The annual Coyoteopoly food drive began as part of the Business Law class taught by Dr. Greg Huckabee, but has since become one of the group's regular activities, the main idea behind which is summarized by the mission statement, "To unite the USD students, faculty, staff and the community of Vermillion and its surrounding areas in order to enhance the knowledge of hunger awareness, as well as provide lasting relief to the issue of hunger."
"Basically, it's one of those ways that gives USD the opportunity to give back to the community, and just help them to have a better bond with the community," Heier said. "It's really good to give back to the community. How many people have lived here for four years-plus? This is a second home to them. I know a lot of students just like to be able to give back because they live here."
For her part, Berglin said she is "really impressed with the crew that put this together this year."
The Vermillion Food Pantry has grown substantially since it was founded 28 years ago, due in large part to efforts like these, Berglin said.
"It's incredible, the generosity," she said. "We have families now that are donating every month, just like if you paid your bill to the electric company … which is really wonderful.
"We're very fortunate in the respect that we have a lot of good friends," she said.
For more information about the Vermillion Food Pantry, visit www.vermillionfoodpantry.org.
To volunteer to help pick up donations Saturday, e-mail email@example.com, or visit Coyoteopoly's Facebook page.