As the annual Walk & Knock Food Drive enters its 35th year of collecting nonperishables for the Clark County Food Bank, you may ask yourself, ‘Is this still necessary?’ And you may ask yourself, ‘How did we get here?’
Decades after its humble beginnings, there’s still a need for the hundreds of thousands of pounds of shelf-stable foods the drive collects, said James Fitzgerald, executive director at FISH of Vancouver and a Walk & Knock board member.
His downtown Vancouver pantry, one recipient of the donations, serves about 1,800 families monthly. Clients include low-income households, retirement communities and homeless people living in the area. Several months ago, FISH ran out of the food donated in May for the National Association of Letter Carriers’ food drive, another large drive.
“It really is true the shelves are bare of those essential staple items,” Fitzgerald said. “The food drive stuff we get is best for building a food box.”
By that he means peanut butter, tuna, chili, soups and those higher-cost, high-protein items that normally can be hard to come by; they’re the types of foods that can accompany more readily available carbohydrates to form a meal.
Walk & Knock occurs every year on the first Saturday in December. Volunteers drive around the county picking up bags of donations that people are asked to leave on their doorsteps or front porches by 9 a.m.
Based on its size, FISH of Vancouver will end up with about 16 percent of Walk & Knock’s haul, which will last maybe three months, Fitzgerald said.
“It’s a huge influx of food for us,” he said.
Board member Joe Pauletto said there’s a perception that the economy is good, and people don’t need food pantries as much.
“I’m glad a lot of people are doing well, but we still have a significant number who are not,” he said.
Pauletto, a self-described “serial volunteer” has been involved in Walk & Knock for 15 years. It is not the same as it ever was. Subscriptions to The Columbian and other papers have declined over the years, which means that Walk & Knock had to look at different ways to get printed paper bags to households. Social media has become a major player in spreading the word about the food drive.
Walk & Knock began as a collaboration among service clubs. While they’re still strongly involved, service club members are graying, and many people are independently getting involved in the food drive.
Through his research and talks with other food banks around the nation, Clark County Food Bank President Alan Hamilton determined that Walk & Knock is the nation’s largest local single-day recurring food drive.
The most food was collected during the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Walk & Knock President Tom Knappenberger wonders how much people’s perceptions of the economy and whether the community is experiencing tough times influence donations. Every year his goal is to collect more food than last year (which was 283,000 pounds).
“Even though it’s rainy and cold this time of year, it’s a good time to infuse the food bank,” Knappenberger said. He encourages everyone to set out a bag (or two) of shelf-stable food on Saturday morning.
According to the National Weather Service, rain is likely Saturday in Vancouver. But Knappenberger said it “wouldn’t be Walk & Knock without rain.”
Miss bag pickup?
Volunteers should pick up donations by 3 p.m. Saturday. For those that get missed, there are a few options. Food can be dropped off at collection barrels around town or taken to the Clark County Food Bank at 6502 N.E. 47th Ave., Vancouver. Otherwise, people can contact Walk & Knock at 877-995-6625 to arrange a pickup.