Food for the Hungry
In Knox County, the whole community pitches in to Food for the Hungry’s annual Food and Funds Drive to make sure neighbors’ needs are met.
Channeling Numerous Events Toward One Big Result: The Food for the Hungry Drive of Knox County
Throughout the fall in Knox County, residents can attend a myriad of special events all aimed at one purpose: ensuring that needy families in the area are cared for. Whether it’s running in the 5K “Turkey Trot,” attending Kenyon College’s annual gala or the Festival of the Trees in Apple Valley, or cheering for one’s favorite local media personality in the annual grocery cart race, anyone who wants to pitch in can have a good time doing so.
The annual Food for the Hungry food and funds drive began back in 1982 as the brainchild of local radio host Charlie Kilkenny, to benefit Interchurch Social Services and the Salvation Army. The following year, Mount Vernon Cablevision joined in sponsoring the drive. By the mid-1990s the event had grown too large for just two organizations to handle and new media and business partners came on board. This Partner Board has become highly proficient in recruiting all kinds of corporate and in-kind donations to help with the effort.
“Today a large majority of community organizations support this,” says Sandy Rhoton, who has served as Drive Coordinator since 2009. “We have a great retention rate of groups who participate every year. And each year we get one or two new nonprofits and several businesses joining in.”
The genius of the model is that each group can come up with its own creative idea of how to help. A women’s sorority, for example, partners with area schools to do a canned food and funds drive. Businesses may offer special coupons or discounts to customers who bring in food donations. Other groups might sponsor a concert or an auction. Last year local Zumba instructors ran a “Zumbathon” fundraiser. Students at the Knox County Career Center fix up a damaged vehicle into good working condition and auction it off, donating the money raised. In Mount Vernon, an annual parade includes the Partner Board pushing empty grocery carts: spectators then jump in to fill these up with food items they’ve brought along. The whole drive culminates in an annual 8-hour live radio and television broadcast the second Saturday in December. In 2012, the drive raised $198,876 and 69 truckloads of food. Local businesses donate professional services like graphic design, printing, and accounting. “This keeps our annual expenses very low,” Rhoton says. For the past several years overhead costs were only about 4 percent.
“Each partner contributes countless hours of work to make our fundraising effective,” says Rhoton. “Their efforts have created a sense of personal ownership within Knox County. I have often said that the benefit of this Drive far exceeds the money and food raised,” she adds. “It contributes greatly to our community’s sense of generosity and everyone wants to get on board and do something to help.”