ARLINGTON — The Rotary Club of Arlington made more than $5,000 worth of groceries disappear in less than three hours on Thursday, Dec. 20.
By about 10:30 a.m., Rotarians went shopping at the Arlington Safeway for both fresh produce and non-perishable food items whose purchases they’d already funded through donations. Shortly after 11 a.m., they’d returned from shopping to the Soccer First indoor fields, onto whose artificial turf they unloaded their haul of groceries for the next half hour. From there, the Arlington Rotary’s assembly of Christmas meal baskets for area families in need went even more high-speed, thanks to an innovation that event coordinator Penny Clark pioneered at last year’s event.
“Rather than having our volunteers go around to each cardboard box and fill it with all the food items needed before moving onto the next one, we had our volunteers make sure that one of each item was in every box,” Clark said. “That actually goes much further toward making sure that none of the boxes are missing any items.”
With an estimated 40 volunteers forming human assembly lines to stock boxes for 77 area families in need, all the boxes that had been empty at noon were fully stocked by about 12:30 p.m. Clark deemed this a significant improvement over last year’s time, especially since a new wrinkle to this year’s Rotary Christmas meal basket assembly is that the drivers delivering those boxes of food were given maps of drop-off routes designed to ensure that none of them would spend much more than half an hour on the road.
“We’re very organized now,” Clark said. “We’ve got it down to a science. Each driver has been given two to five baskets to deliver, and their itineraries are much more efficient.”
Clark acknowledged that, while it may be a science, the Rotary’s assembly and delivery of Christmas meal baskets “is not an exact science,” and as such, had a few food items left over this year. In the event that this happens again next year, she’s proposed identifying which families are large enough to warrant receiving those leftover as additions to their boxes.
Dave Duskin, who’s volunteered as part of the Rotary’s Christmas meal basket assembly and delivery for the past 20 years, recalled some adventurous treks into the remote reaches of the community to drop off his boxes.
“I kept passing so many ‘No Trespassing signs that I was sure I was going to round the corner and find someone with a shotgun yelling, ‘No trespassing,’” Duskin laughed. Even with all these computerized devices like our GPS units, it can be a challenge to find these locations.”
Since the Rotarians had calculated that enough food enough to fill each Christmas meal basket would cost $65 apiece, they personally donated $5,029 to purchase that food, an amount that Rotary itself will match and donate directly to the Arlington Community Food Bank.
“None of that funding comes from the Duck Dash,” said A.J. Chase, public relations chair for the Rotary Club of Arlington. “All our funding for this event is private. It’s a nice opportunity for our Rotarians t have hands-on interactions with members of our community who are in need. They’re so appreciative to receive these meal baskets.”
“As we drive from home to work and back again, it’s easy to forget the poor exist, because we’re not going where they are,” said Fellow Arlington Rotarian and meal basket volunteer Wally Thomas. “They’re right here in our community, though.”
“The economy hasn’t quite bounced back yet, so I’d ask people to be generous and reach a little deeper,” Clark said.