For many of us, 2020 has been a tumultuous year. Among our family, friends, and neighbors, there are some who are experiencing hunger for the first time due to the pandemic. And yet, despite all the challenges we’ve faced this year – across our cooperative and within our communities – we couldn’t be prouder and more amazed at the generosity and goodwill that endures year and after.
Since 2014, we’ve helped collect more than 47 tons (95,527 lbs.) of food donations, which have all been delivered to the local food banks in the communities in which they were donated. As we wrap up our seventh consecutive year of Cram the Van, we are blown away by the support and kindness of everyone who has stepped up to help feed their neighbors in need!
Earlier this year, amid a public health pandemic and with greater than ever need, we knew we needed to act even if things looked different. That is, we knew the WAY we did Cram the Van would certainly look different this year; however, the WHY would remain the same.
That’s because as a cooperative, “Concern for Community” is one of our governing principles. We work daily for the sustainable development of our communities through policies supported by our members. And our success this year – a total of 32,220 pounds collected – can only be credited to the cooperation and compassion from the communities we serve!
Our Co-Ops Care Charity Golf Tournament held Aug. 28, at Mariah Hills Golf Course in Dodge City served once again as our Cram the Van kickoff event this year. In our second year and in partnership with Victory Electric Cooperative Association, we were able to raise over $16,000 for our respective causes: Cram the Van and Dodge City’s Avenue of Flags.
Thanks to the generosity of more than 120 golfers and our own cooperative employees and volunteers, we’re excited to share that half these funds ($8,319) have been split evenly among our local food banks that power food pantries across our southwest and southcentral Kansas territory.
Additionally, our Co-Ops Care annual fundraiser – “fore” a good cause! – would not have been possible without the assistance of at least three dozen businesses who made corporate sponsorships at the $250 (watt), $500 (kilowatt), and $1,000 (megawatt) levels.
The following month, our signature red van – the largest in our fleet – made its way over to Great Bend on Sept. 22, to greet attendees at this year’s Great Bend Tribune’s Women’s Expo event at the Great Bend Events Center! For the second year in a row, we collected freewill can and cash donations from participants. All proceeds from this community event are included in our donation totals for the Community Food Bank of Barton County.
Of course, our signature Cram the Van events – community get-togethers in each of our seven districts – had to be modified due to this year’s special public health challenges. To prioritize safety and health while carrying out our mission, we set up drive-through style donation drop-offs, with no need for members to exit their vehicles!
Our first donation drive-in was held in Scott City on Oct. 13 between our main office and warehouse location. In exchange for a cash or can donation, we served up hot-of-the-grill hamburgers and hot dogs in prepackaged boxes and collected canned and other non-perishable food items from our generous members. Thanks to the generosity of our members, we collected 3,045 lbs. of food, and we were able to deliver these donations to Hope’s Closet on Dec. 2.
Our next stop with our big ole red van occurred Oct. 16 in Great Bend, where we not only set up another donation drive-in for our members but also collected a whopping 4,500 lbs. of food from Great Bend schools! A school contest was sponsored by Hiss Sherman Wealth Management Group, and we were able to award the Central Kansas Christian Academy a $500 prize for raising the most donations in this friendly competition! Jefferson Elementary School came in second, receiving $300, and Riley Elementary School came in third, receiving $200!
In total, and thanks to the amazing efforts of our youngest cooperative members, we were able to collect 6,590 lbs. of food for the Community Food Bank of Barton County, which we delivered Nov. 9!
We continued our donation drive-ins the following week in October in Tribune and Syracuse, on Oct. 19, and Oct. 22, respectively. Once again, thanks to the generosity of our members, we were able to collect 1,596 lbs. of food donations for the Greeley County Food Bank and 1,679 lbs. of food donations for the Hamilton County Food Bank in. Both these food banks received their donations Dec. 9, thanks to the generosity of the communities we serve!
Of course, sometimes inclement weather can play a role, and our Wheatland team was forced to reschedule both donation drive-ins in both Leoti and Harper, originally scheduled for Oct. 26 and 28. Though both these outdoor events were rescheduled to Nov. 4 and 5, that didn’t stop our members from showing how much they cared about their neighbors in need.
In Leoti, we were able to raise 2,096 lbs. of donations, which we delivered to the Wichita County Food Bank on Dec. 9. And in Harper, we raised 1,152 lbs. of donations, delivered Nov. 20 to the Harper Mission Mart!
We also held a special Cram the Van event Nov. 12 at the Stock Exchange Bank in Caldwell! To show how much “Caldwell Cares,” we collected cash and can donations for the United Methodist Food Pantry and the Caldwell Food Bank. In exchange for their generosity, Caldwell residents enjoyed a sweet treat on us from Pekarna Coffee+Bakery! In total, our Cram the Van campaign netted both Caldwell food banks 1,075 pounds in food donations this year, which we delivered Dec. 11!
Our efforts to assist the food pantries in our eastern districts didn’t stop there. The following week, Nov. 16-20, we treated some of our youngest members in Conway Springs to pizza parties, thanks to their incredible efforts to help us Cram the Van. A friendly school competition – the Cardinal Cares Canned Food Drive – between Kyle Trueblood Elementary School, St. Joseph Catholic School, and the Conway Springs middle and high schools garnered us a total of 2,672 lbs. of food donations for the local Mission Mart!
Because this year had its special challenges, we also introduced a new way for members to donate – online! With a few fast and simple clicks, individuals could donate to one (or more) of our 11 local food banks using a credit or debit card at www.weci.net!
In total, our online campaign raised $1,150 in funds! Our average online donation was just under $40, another sign of the generosity and kindness shown by our members and cooperative employees, who also comprised much of our donor list! As our way of saying ‘thank you,’ we even gave away a Traeger Tailgater grill to one lucky donor on Dec. 9: Jana Harkness of Finney County. A video of our drawing can be viewed on our Facebook page.
Every year, we Cram the Van because we care. And every year, our members show us why the travel and time is worth all the toil and sweat. We know there are thousands of families, children and seniors within our communities who struggle with hunger. Providing some relief to our local food banks to help with these needs are why we Cram the Van every year. And this year – our most challenging yet – we couldn’t have broken these records or raised these totals without the dedication, kindness, and compassion of the communities we serve. It costs so little to help so much – thank you from the bottom of our hearts, for helping us make 2020 another successful year!