Group goes scouting for food

Door-to-door troop helps feed the hungry

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - James Alex Johnson, a 12-year-old Boy Scout, is anxious to collect bagged goods on Saturday.

After joining Troop 853 of the Boy Scouts of America in March, the seventh-grader knew this would open doors for opportunities to help others in the community.

So far, he and the troop of 40 boys have passed out food to seniors in Suisun City and picked up trash in various parks and creeks.

But on Saturday, Johnson will experience what it is like to knock on neighborhood doors and ask folks to fill bags with canned or boxed goods in the Woodcreek area. It's a chance, he said, that will make him feel proud.

"I'm excited about collecting food for the homeless," he said. "I feel pretty good because we're helping people."

These sentiments aren't particular to Johnson. "Scouting for Food," a nationwide food drive sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, will muster more than 1,000 Scouts in Solano County on Saturday as they collect bags filled with food from local doorsteps into the hands of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

"We want everyone to have a holiday meal and we need donations to put that together," said Larry Sly, executive director of the Food Bank.

The Food Bank feeds roughly 82,000 people in Contra Costa and Solano per month, Sly said, and distributes 8 million pounds of food per year. However, food donations are running tight this year for the holidays and the Food Bank needs help.

"We're turning a corner right now," he said of the holiday program. "There are barrels in the supermarkets, but we're in a time where we need support to come forward."

According to the "Hunger in America 2006" study, 71 percent of all emergency food clients in Contra Costa and Solano are food insecure and almost 50 percent are experiencing hunger on a daily basis.

Almost half of their clients surveyed report having to choose between paying for utilities and paying for food.

"The trick is that it's the holiday season and that's part of the reason we try to raise the visibility of hunger," Sly said. "We do this with events like the food drive with the Boy Scouts. Their timing is critical."

For Alan Knopp, assistant Scout Master for Troop 853, Saturday will mark his 10th round at collecting food. Although most Boy Scout troops left empty bags on doorsteps last Saturday to be filled and picked up this week, Knopp prefers to have his boys collect food and fill bags the same day.

It is a technique that garnered ample results in the past.

"We tried giving out the bags first but we wouldn't get that much success," Knopp said, who had three of his boys in the Boy Scout program. "It seems to work out better with us knocking on doors. The community has always been generous regarding our food drive."

Last year, Knopp and Troop 853 collected 2,500 canned or boxed foods for the Food Bank, which helped to contribute to the 164,000 pounds gathered by the "Scouts for Food" drive.

This year, Sly is aiming to collect more than 200,000 pounds of nonperishable foods, specifically in canned fruit, dry pinto beans, enriched rice, tuna, peanut butter in plastic containers, pasta and cereal.

Knopp and the troop of boys intend to help reach that goal.

"I think it's a wonderful thing to do, for kids to learn how to help the community and help feed the hungry during this time of year," Knopp said. "And that's what Scouting is all about, doing a good turn and helping other people."

Hunger statistics

Statistics from the "Face of Hunger" survey of emergency food clients for Solano and Contra Costa counties:

Percent who are "food insecure": 71

Percent who experience hunger on a daily basis: 49

Percent with monthly incomes less than $1,000: 50

Median monthly household income: $900

Percent who admit to being late paying for previous month's rent: 20

Percent without health insurance: 20

Source: Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano