DECATUR — In its 16th year, the WSOY Community Food Drive once again met its goal, raising a total of 1,501,537 million pounds/dollars over the course of 12 hours.
Either by phone or in person at Kroger, 1818 S. Airport Plaza, thousands of people donated food and funds toward the 1.5 million goal on Friday. To Brian Byers, who has overseen the event since the beginning, the community's response continues to be "awe-inspiring."
"This is a ton of food," said Byers, vice president of development at Neuhoff Media. "All of this money and food will go to work. It'll be donated to nine organizations as a way to continue to support the great work they do for the community."
The local charities and food banks on the receiving end of the food drive's donations include the Northeast Community Fund, the Good Samaritan Inn, the Judy Mason Thanksgiving Basket Project, Reasonable Service, God’s Shelter of Love, AMELCA Food Pantry, Interchurch Council of Blue Mound-Boody-Stonington and Mount Zion United Methodist Food Pantry.
At Kroger, Larry and Nancy Bullock of Decatur bought a cartload of groceries, and then came outside to donate it. Nancy Bullock said it is hard to explain why they want to donate, but it's just their way of giving back.
“This is our community and we've lived here for 45 years, and we just want to help the community who's been good to us,” she said.
Ten-year-old Kyleigh Baker felt the same way. The Decatur Christian student was shopping at the store with her grandfather and younger brother, and before they left, she handed off a cart of canned goods to one of the food drive's many volunteers.
"Whenever I see people who don't have many things, I feel sad, and want to donate things to them," she said. "Sometimes I go to the Salvation Army with my mom and my brother, and we donate things."
In addition to the general public, several prominent companies and community leaders donated throughout the day, like Archer Daniels Midland Co., Green Valley Manufacturing and the Airport Road Kroger. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner called in with a $25,000 donation, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation matched $75,000 raised during the last two hours of the drive.
Participating in a competition with one another, several Decatur schools were also responsible for a hefty amount of donations. St. Teresa High School and St. Patrick's School were locked in a tight race for the top spot in the contest for most of the day.
Ultimately, St. Teresa finished on top with 252,296 pounds/dollars collected. It was followed by St. Patrick's with 210,780, Mount Zion High School with 101,153, Eisenhower with 95,743, and Warrensburg-Latham with 92,851.
While Our Lady of Lourdes didn't make the top five, the school undoubtedly made an impact when a semi-truck full of non-perishable food items arrived to the Kroger lot and was donated on the school's behalf.
When Lourdes student Bryan Burcham II overheard his grandfather talking about the semi truck on the phone, he was surprised and confused. Once he learned of its purpose, he was ecstatic.
Brian Burcham told his grandson to keep the truck a secret, and he did.
Then, Friday morning at school, when he could finally tell, his eighth-grade classmates at Our Lady of Lourdes didn’t believe him.
They joked around with him, teasing about when his semi would show up, and when it did, they were surprised too. Bryan was still in shock as the semi was unloaded Friday afternoon.
“I don’t know about the semi,” he said. “They didn’t believe me.”
The elder Brian and his wife Becky have worked hard to make sure all their children and grandchildren take care of other people, said Alexas Burcham, his granddaughter.
“We want to teach the grandkids to give,” the elder Brian Burcham said.
Brian Burcham said it took a lot of talking and searching to find enough food to fill a semi truck. But he was glad he could gift the gift to his grandson and teach him to continue giving back to the community, he said.
Other semi-trucks and large vehicles pulled up to the lot at different points during the drive, and over 500 volunteers dedicated their time in different way to ensure the food and donations were received as efficiently as possible.
Some volunteered for shifts throughout the day, while others stayed for the entire day.
"We don't turn anybody away," Byers said. "(The food drive) is something people want to be a part of."
Longtime volunteer Don Klinker of Decatur started directing traffic when the drive began at 6 a.m. He said he volunteers every year with the Knights of Columbus organization.
“It's fun. I'm a people person, and I get to talk and joke,” he said. “And you get to see community people people you don't get to see very often.”
Another reason he volunteers is he is upset with the amount of homeless people and people in need in the community. And he hopes to do what he can.
“In a country like ours, with the money we have, and there are people who are starving to death — that is something wrong,” he said.
Despite all the donations on Friday, the shelters will be out of food before next year, Klinker said.
“It's just unbelievable,” he said. “There are so many people in this town that don't have anything.”
ADM Business Solutions Analysts Angela Hill and Derek Stevenson volunteered their time at the tent, donning pink shirts that said “Team ADM” on the back. This was Hill’s third time volunteering for the food drive, and Stevenson’s first.
“I think it’s important to help the community,” Hill said. “Everything donated here goes toward helping Decatur.”
Stevenson said he enjoyed his first year as a volunteer, and will sign up to join the team again for next year’s drive.
“We all live in the community,” he said. “It’s all about helping others. It’s like, if they’re helping out people, then I’ll help them too, and take the initiative. I’ll do it again next year.”
At the end of the day, Byers said he's expecting more donations to come in over the weekend, extending the final total well beyond the intended goal.
"It always ends up being more," he said. "We always get a lot of phone calls, or people come home from vacation and send donations in. But the good news here is, we met our goal."