By Travis Gulbrandson
The Vermillion Food Pantry may be set for food through the end of the year, thanks to the annual Coyoteopoly Food Drive.
The drive – collection for which took place primarily on Oct. 27 – netted the pantry more than 5,000 food items and more than $3,500 in monetary donations.
"I think you did a really nice job," Mary Berglin of the food pantry told two Coyoteopoly students this week. "You did well with your advertising, you made slips that said 'this is what we need' and you gave it to the schools, you publicized it.
"I don't know how much more we could've done," she said.
The week before collections took place, student volunteers went through Vermillion putting approximately 3,000 donation bags on doorknobs throughout the community.
The filled bags were then picked up the following Saturday.
"We could tell within the first hour and a half of kids bringing in bags that it was going to be a much bigger drive (than in previous years)," Berglin said. "In fact, we had so many bags on the floor we had to say, 'You can't put them there anymore.' … It was getting too hard to walk."
Now the pantry has lots of rice, pasta, chunky soup, peanut butter, canned fruit and other products it didn't have before.
"It was great to see the community support we got," said Coyoteopoly CEO Jeff Heier.
Dave Peschong, VP of operations for Coyoteopoly, agreed. "It was great to see the individual residents and businesses, how strong they responded to everything," he said. "There was definitely a need for it."
Berglin said the food pantry has served "almost 4,000 people now, and the year's not over yet."
By comparison, the pantry served 3,396 people overall last year.
"Most people think that our busiest time is January, February and March, but actually it's July, August and September," Berglin said. "But we had a 400 month in October. Four-hundred months just boggle my mind, because that's 400 people coming in. Some of them were 463. Those are all really big numbers to me.
"When I look back on newsletters … we used to do 100 people in a month a few years ago," she said. "Then it crawled up to a few more, and a few more, and then all of a sudden we're doing 400 people."
This is even more mind-boggling to Berglin because there is another Clay County food pantry in Wakonda.
"I'm just thankful that (Coyoteopoly) did it, and they did such a good job," she said. "Because there were some years where it was not nearly as well-done."
Thanks are due in part to the approximately 100 students who took part in the overall campaign, Peschong said.
"It was a great response from the students," he said.
Businesses also stepped up to the plate, Heier added.
For example, Maurice's had a drop-off box in their store, and gave a 30 percent discount to customers who brought more than three food items.
Berglin, Heier and Peschong also extended their thanks to the regular citizens who made donations.
"People were really generous," Peschong said.
"I want them to know how much we appreciate their help during this super-busy year," Berglin added.
Despite the success of the campaign, the Coyoteopoly students said they do have plans to make a few changes next year, possibilities including the placement of bags and the design of the bags themselves.
"One of the big things is how we count the food," Heier said. "It's kind of just, 'Well, let's count it,' and there's not real system to it. Now that the food drive is over, that's something we're going to do – develop a standard operating procedure for counting the food items, counting the monetary donations."
This will make it easier to tell the community how much was raised, he said, as the number of items received is not always indicative of the size of those items.
"We feel it's not fair to the community if there isn't a standard way of counting it," he said.
These issues aside, Berglin said she is very happy with how the campaign turned out, and wanted to make sure everyone – volunteers and donors alike – knew that.
"Thank you, Vermillion," she said.