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Businesses collect more than 23,000 food items for pantries

Area employees from seven businesses delivered 23,107 items of groceries to Jamestown food pantries on Wednesday, starting the holiday season off with a friendly food-drive competition.

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Crews from several Jamestown, N.D., businesses help unload food and other items at the Salvation Army in Jamestown. (John M. Steiner / Forum News Service)

Area employees from seven businesses delivered 23,107 items of groceries to Jamestown food pantries on Wednesday, starting the holiday season off with a friendly food-drive competition.

“I can’t tell you what this means to us,” said a tearful Abbie Craig, Salvation Army case manager, to the several volunteers as they formed a chain to pass boxes into the Salvation Army food pantry. “We were down to commodities.”

Donations are a huge part of the budget, Craig said. For every food, paper or personal hygiene item that is donated, it means more funds from the budget can be applied to other programs.

UTC Aerospace Systems, Jamestown Regional Medical Center, Newman Signs, Agri-Cover Inc., Cargill Malt, RealTruck.com and Cavendish Farms are part of a competition to see which business can raise the highest ratio of items per employee - to allow smaller businesses to compete with bigger ones.

The effort starts in October and lasts for around two weeks, with each company arranging its own collecting program, incentives and events. The business with the highest ratio has the honor of adding its name to the ‘traveling trophy’ and keeping it for a year.

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Cavendish Farms averaged 46.6 items per employee donated among 204 employees. The effort was coordinated by Becky Kercher, a human resource generalist.

“It is a lot of fun for everyone, and we look forward to it every year,” said Connie Sova, a training coordinator for Cavendish Farms, which has won the traveling trophy for a second straight year. “This is such a team effort and it has a good impact on the community. We are all winners and it’s fun to know that we can do something at the holiday season.”

For the first time this year the Community Action Region VI food pantry is also benefitting from the food drive. The food drive expanded to include Community Action once the competition grew to seven participating businesses.

The Community Action food pantry served 158 families in October, and it expects to grow to 200 over the two holiday months, said Sarah Oberlander, food pantry coordinator at Community Action Region VI.

“This is unbelievable,” she said, as volunteers brought in the boxes. “That is the only word to describe it.”

The competition started seven years ago at Cargill Malt in Spiritwood, when Kevin Andrus, a lab technician with quality assurance, recommended that an internal food drive expand to include area businesses in a consolidated effort to make a bigger difference.

“It’s just a small part of what people need but at least it’s something,” Andrus said. “It is more now than what was happening years ago, and while the food is needed all year it is most needed at this time - the giving time of the season.”

Roger Kleinknecht, a Cargill production worker, was the company representative for the drive this year. He said company raffles were incentives for employees to give but it was really their goodwill that brought in an average of 17 items per employee.

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“This is the one employee drive,” Kleinknecht said. “The rest are company driven.”

UTC had the most employees of the companies with 475 and averaged 3.31 items per employee.

Greg Allen, human resources manager at UTC, served as the project representative, and he said the food drive has been consistently successful over the years. The employees were motivated in this community effort to help those in need rather than thinking about the competition, he said.

“Grow your heart by giving,” Allen said. “If you can give, you can grow your heart and that is an exciting part of this.”

Ramone Gumke, assistant operations manager for Newman Signs, said Newman’s approximately 100 employees, who averaged around 31.22 items each in the drive, had some fun with the project, but it was mostly about helping the community.

“We divide up into teams and that way everybody can help each other out and get everything in on time,” Gumke said.

Gumke said the work was worthwhile and watching the smiling employees from three companies unload items at the Community Action food pantry brought on a very good holiday feeling.

“It shows what people can accomplish when everybody gets together and works toward the common goal,” he said. “It’s nice to see.”

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RealTruck.com averaged 39.79 items per employee, and this was the first year that JRMC and Agri-Cover participated in the drive. JRMC has about 340 employees and averaged 4.97 items per employee.

“Everyone was excited to be part of the project,” said Katie Mittleider, administrative assistant of clinical services. “JRMC moved toward a community impact model and this food drive was another example of that focus.”

Agri-Cover has about 125 employees and averaged 23.24 items per employee. Employees brought in items and placed them on a 12-by-16-foot grain tarp.

“We placed the food on the edge and rolled it out as more came in,” said Patty Schlotfeldt, quality control assistant at Agri-Cover. “We ended up overfilling our grain tarp and stacking food in layers.”

Ellen Zetocha, human resources assistant at Agri-Cover, said that an internal drive was timed to coincide with this year’s competition to work with the larger effort. Agri-Cover has other drives throughout the year, she said, and money donated for this drive was used to purchase items such as salt, sugar, flour and other baking staples.

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