ANNAPOLIS – Boy Scout troops in Montgomery County collected more than 120,000 food items for the Manna Food Center in Rockville last year, or about a third of the canned goods the organization typically receives in a year.
“Without it we just wouldn’t make it,” said Tom Lawrey, executive director of Manna. “Pardon the pun, but it’s like manna from heaven.”
Manna distributes “manna boxes” of about 35 food items to needy families, and Scouting for Food, a national Good Turn project for the Boy Scouts of America, is the food bank’s largest drive of the year.
Four Montgomery County Scout districts collected donations for Manna last year.
“We recognize within our movement that there is a need for food to be given out,” said Deborah Dean, program director for the National Capital Area Council. “For many local food banks . . . this is the only food drive they would have.”
Troops in the National Capital Area Council, which includes parts of Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia, collected 720,000 pounds of food last year and are aiming for 800,000 this year.
Boy Scout troop 447 in Rockville works with two Cub Scout packs to collect food. Last year they gathered 6,000 pounds for Manna.
“The guys would like to break that this year,” said Doug McHale, the troop’s Scoutmaster, who said a little friendly competition emerges among Scouting units. “We’re kind of up there as a troop as far as how much we collect.”
The troop attributes part of its success to knocking on doors when people haven’t left food at the door.
“I’d say only about 10 percent of the houses we go to actually have bags on their doorsteps,” said Nick Lopreiato, a 16-year-old Scout with Troop 447. When the Scouts knock, people often will quickly prepare a donation.
“I think that’s what puts us over the top,” he said.
The Scouts’ efforts are especially important at a time when the demand for food is increasing, Lawrey said. Requests for food are up about 24 percent over this time last year, he estimated.
“Logistically, it’s almost like having a chute with the food going in one door and out the other,” he said. Manna distributed over 2 million pounds of food last year.
“The need goes up every year and the donations go down,” said Lynn Jackson, director of operations for Food Resources Inc. in Hagerstown. The food distribution warehouse depends on organizations that do food drives throughout the year, he said.
Scouts in the Hagerstown area have already completed their food drive, donating about 3,000 pounds of food to Food Resources Inc.
For many Maryland troops, Saturday is the day Scouts hang plastic bags provided by Safeway on doorknobs in their communities. A week later, the Scouts will return to pick up the bags in hopes they’ll be filled with non-perishable food items.
“One of the things that Scouting tries to get across is community service,” said McHale, whose 16-year-old son is a Scout. “This works right into it – giving back to the community.”
“I think it’s a really good activity because not a lot of people see Boy Scouts these days,” said Lopreiato. “It’s a good project so they can see we’re still out there in the community.”
Scouts in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties will hang about 50,000 bags on doorknobs this year.
“It’s really kind of fun,” said Jeff Powers, 14, a Scout with Troop 420 in Leonardtown. His troop gathers about 2,000 pounds of food each year.
The food drive counts toward community service hours Scouts need to reach certain ranks, he said.
Last year, Ann Powers, Jeff’s mother and Cubmaster for Pack 420, and her troops took about three vanloads of food to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, which operates a small food pantry in Leonardtown.
“It’s nice for them to see they’re helping other people.”