Volunteers canvass Clark County to collect food

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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That house, Vancouver resident Fred Bruechert points out, has a tall fence around the front yard. He usually avoids those.

That one, he notices, has a “No Soliciting” sign. He moves on.

At the third, a Walk & Knock bag sits, empty and soaked on the front porch. That’s a giveaway.

But it’s on his fourth house that Bruechert strikes gold Saturday: A large plastic bag filled with canned foods, and a frozen turkey, sitting out for the annual Walk & Knock food drive.

“Our first one,” Bruechert said, hefting the bag over his shoulder. “Yay!”

The event is sponsored by the Clark County Lions, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs for the Clark County Food Bank.

Now in its 32nd year, the food drive sends families, Boy Scout Troops and school clubs across Clark County. More than 4,000 volunteers zigzag through neighborhoods, collecting bags from houses, boxing up canned goods and sending them off to the Clark County Food Bank. This year’s drive has brought in 254,140 pounds of food so far.

It’s a family affair for Vancouver couple Chris and Angie Nelson, who have been volunteering for the Walk & Knock for about five years.

“We drug all our friends into it,” Chris Nelson said, as he, his daughter, niece, cousin, brother, uncle and Bruechert, a friend, spread out, canvassing the Carter Park and Hough neighborhoods. Angie Nelson, meanwhile, stayed behind at Lincoln Elementary School, coordinating volunteer groups across downtown Vancouver.

Chris Nelson noted she’s been up until 1 a.m. most nights recently working on the event.

“Just the last minute emails,” he said, driving the family’s tailgating van around, looking for bags. “It takes a lot.”

Shaun Nelson, Chris Nelson’s brother, and Richard Ellis, his uncle, split up along one street, peppering houses on either side.

“I’m going crush it, dude,” Shaun Nelson hollered at Ellis as he jogged down the road. Ellis points out that in this neighborhood, some of these families likely need the food bank’s help themselves. And indeed, at times, members of the group knock on doors and are greeted by families inside who say times are scarce and they can’t afford to donate this year.

Nonetheless, the back of the van is soon filled with the red-and-brown paper bags.

“Fred’s got too many bags,” Chris Nelson mumbles, pulling over as he watched Bruechert, his arms laden with food. “I’ve got to go help him.”

“Every year,” he adds with a smile, shaking his head.

The Kidz Bop versions of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” blared from the speakers as the family drove. Chris Nelson’s 9-year-old daughter, Isabel, and her 4-year-old cousin, Nora, dance in the back, reaching through the door as they took food donations from their family members.

“You’re keeping morale up,” Chris Nelson said to his daughter.

After about two hours of trudging through the rain and knocking on doors, every street on Chris Nelson’s map is crossed off. All that’s left is a trip to Hudson’s Bay High School, where the family joined a queue of volunteers dropping off their bags of food. Hundreds of plastic bags pile in front of the school, while yet more volunteers box up the cans and load them into a semitrailer.

It seems there’s more food than usual, Chris Nelson said, looking at the growing pile of bags.

“I think it’s Christmas, the holidays get started,” he said. “People want to help more.”