Annual food drive relies on volunteer effort

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Having too many people to collect food from doorsteps is a good problem to have when you’re organizing the largest food bank drive of the year.

“Usually we don’t have enough runners,” says Marian Rochford, the office manager at the Red Willow Community Church, as she tells four extra people that there’s no room for them during Saturday’s annual food drive.

The food drive is organized through a partnership between the St. Albert Food Bank and the church. The food bank delivers brown bags to homes, where residents fill up the sacks and leave them out front for collection by church volunteers.

While it might seem like a chaotic event, the annual food drive is organized down to the smallest detail.

“I love flow. I always look for what’s the flow. I took a look and I thought, ‘if I’m a volunteer, and I’m coming in, what do I need to know?’”

Rochford oversees the church’s half of the event. Each year she organizes around 100 teams composed of up to six volunteers per team.

On her desk sit two binders filled with almost 50 maps each, contained in laminate protectors. The maps break down St. Albert into subdivisions and each division is given a number based on how big the area is.

Akinsdale, for example, is divided into eight subdivisions, which means it’ll take eight routes to finish the area.

From there, routes are assigned to teams. This year there were 90 drivers, which couriered two to three runners per vehicle. Volunteers choose how many routes they want prior to the big day.

“I have one family that chose to do four routes and they’ll do it at the same time,” she says, sitting behind her desk with a hand on one of the binders.

Rochford says she spent around 80 hours planning the event, down from more than 100 hours last year.

She took over organizing the event in 2015 and soon discovered changes needed to take place.

“The maps were old and they weren’t accurate,” she says.

Last year she painstakingly went through the process of printing new maps, highlighting areas and creating the organized binders.

Rochford even helped the food bank on their end.

“I also made up the maps for the food bank,” she says. “There was sort of a disconnect because they do one part and I do the other.”

Rochford says once the brown bags are delivered to residents by the food bank, it’s up to the church’s volunteers to pick them up. Having the same maps with the same markers provided her with the details she needed to not miss a house.

Prior to 2015 the event relied on volunteers to show up the day of, where they would then be assigned routes. Rochford says she wanted to turn the event around and have routes assigned weeks before the actual event.

On the day, she says volunteers will show up, collect their routes and leave the building in one seamless process.

She says usually volunteers who aren’t members of the church comprise one-quarter of volunteers organized by the church for the drive. This year non-church volunteers made up one-third of the 100 volunteers.

Audie Benson, volunteer, has been part of the annual food drive since it launched 30 years ago.

He had four generations of his family participating in the drive. His parents, both of his children, his grandchildren and a friend of his son all drove around in their vehicles as they tackled multiple routes.

“It’s really rewarding seeing my family volunteer each year. St. Albert has been really good to us, and we’ve always wanted our kids and our family to give back to the community,” he says.

He says when the drive started around 30 years ago it took from noon until midnight to cover the entire city. At the time only a dozen volunteers participated.

The amount of food collected from the drive is yet to be tallied. Last year the annual food drive collected 65,000 pounds of food from the community.

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Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.