Cans From Campers: A Community Service Effort

Let’s Start a New “Season of Giving” with Cans From Campers

In June 2015, Camp Pemigewassett launched Cans from Campers, a food drive on the opening day of our season, an initiative in response to a growing interest in community service among our campers. Our focus was timely. We learned through the process that food pantries suffer a significant decline in donations during the summer months since food drives typically are held in November and December, the “season of giving.” Additionally, according to “Summer Shouldn’t Mean Hunger” in November 2015’s US News & World Report opinion section:

During the school year, approximately 22 million kids count on the nutrition they need from school meals. At the close of the school year, access to those meals ends and for far too many kids, summer break means struggling with hunger.

Cans from Campers was simple to implement. A conversation in the spring with the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester helped to identify a local food pantry, and a call to the head volunteer at the location provided us with the information we needed to coordinate our schedule with theirs.

In a pre-season email to our families and staff, Dan Reed and Sarah Fauver, members of the fourth generation of Pemi’s founding families, suggested they add a canned good or non-perishable when they packed camp gear for the coming weeks. As a fun twist to the idea, they also suggested that campers and staff consider bringing a can for every year they’d been at Pemi. (For several campers, that could mean 6, 7, 8, or even 9 items. And for one of our staff members, 46!)

Cans From Campers took place on our opening day in June and again in mid-July when our Second Session boys arrived. After being warmly greeted by Director Danny Kerr and Assistant Director Ken Moore, campers arriving by car came upon Dan and Sarah, who had staged a collection site near the office—a bright yellow kayak—just in case our campers came with a donation in hand. It didn’t take long to see that the food drive idea had been embraced enthusiastically by campers and parents alike. Even boys who came by bus and plane managed to wedge a can of tuna or a box of mac ‘n’ cheese into their luggage. By the end of the day, the kayak “looked like a cross between Noah’s Ark and a polyethylene cornucopia” (to quote that week’s summer newsletter).

Cans From Campers at Pemi

Many boys (and Dads who are alums) brought a can for each year they’d been a camper at Pemi

As the window of time for arrivals came to a close, eager helpers stepped in to count, sort, and organize the soups, cereals, canned vegetables, beans, and rice that filled and surrounded the vessel. Two days later, five campers—selected from 30 who volunteered—hoisted dozens of loaded boxes and bags into a camp van to personally deliver the bounty to the local food pantry during their open hours.

Cans From Campers at Pemi

Pemi campers load the goods into a van via assembly line and deliver them to a local food pantry

After our boys unloaded the goods, Ted, the head food pantry volunteer, gave an informative talk about the services they provide and the 351 families they serve in fourteen surrounding counties. Another volunteer referred to charts on the wall to illustrate how servings are calculated. Two refrigerators and a freezer hummed in the background, ready for the possible donation of soon-to-expire meat and produce—staples needed for a nutritious, balanced diet—from two local grocery stores. We learned that, unfortunately, one such dependable store had recently started to sell these items at deeply discounted prices rather than donate them.

Cans_talk

A volunteer at the food pantry gives a talk on the families they serve; a chart illustrates how to calculate servings

By all measurable means, our inaugural food drive was a tremendous success—with our modest camp community of 254 campers (from our two arrival days), plus staff donating over 800 cans and other non-perishables, serving well over 100 local families ranging in size from one to nine members and providing an appreciable contribution to the 3,052 meals served by the food pantry during the month of July.

While our goal was to provide a basic need for those less fortunate in our surrounding area, the opening day endeavor also had an extremely positive impact on our own camp community. A single camper’s simple and kind gesture upon his arrival quickly grew into a visually stunning, cumulative effort, achieved only when many work together. The spirit of generosity and community-mindedness and of respect and empathy in action—a culture that we aim to build each and every summer—was launched in a yellow kayak in the center of camp for all to see and consider.

Pemi boys and food pantry staff

Pemi boys and food pantry staff

When asked about his experience of going to the food pantry, Matthew McDonough, 12, said, “I’ve done food drives before at home (New Jersey) so I know it feels good to help. Mostly I was surprised to hear how many hungry families there are. When I think of New Hampshire, I think of going to camp and how rural it is.”

This coming June we’ll do our part and will host Pemi’s 2nd annual Cans From Campers. But just think; if food pantries regularly see a decline in donations starting in June, and if summer camps are gearing up at exactly that time, imagine the potential impact that summer camps across the country could have in fighting hunger in the rural or urban communities that surround them merely by adopting this simple tradition. After all, every summer camp has an opening day, and camps with multiple sessions have multiple “opening days” throughout the summer. All it takes is the suggestion that campers pack a can of food along with their bathing suit and sunscreen.

To that end, we’ll reach out to other camps in our area to relay our experience…the camps we typically see on the soccer pitch or baseball diamond, or camps that many of our campers’ sisters attend. If they’d like to host their own opening day food drive, perhaps we can coordinate efforts. The NH Food Bank stands ready to serve as a resource for camps that join in.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the idea catches on with summer camps all across the country? Camps could very well be a key player in helping to reduce the spike in summertime hunger experienced in the communities around us all. Perhaps Cans From Campers could even establish a new “season of giving.”

~ Dottie Reed

Cans_From_Campers_KayakLinks to further reading:
Feeding America
No Kid Hungry
NH Food Bank

Find your local food bank:
http://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank/