Teen helpers organize Pumpkin Path fundraiser for Jasper Food Bank

·4 min read

Volunteers from the Jasper Food Bank, the Rotary Club and the Youth Community Helpers are combining their efforts to make this year's food bank drive a success.

To support the food bank and work within COVID protocol at the same time, The Pumpkin Path will be set up at Centennial Park on Oct. 30, with a trail of carved pumpkins for attendees to admire.

The event is an alternative to the traditional Trick or Eat fundraising event started in 2015 by Youth Community Helpers, a teen group.

Usually, teens go door to door to collect items for Jasper Food Bank on Halloween night, but they can't this year due to COVID.

Still, they wanted to help, and got creative.

This week, the teens will get together virtually to have a pumpkin-carving session and those creations will be on display at Centennial Park on Oct. 30.

And during the event, the teens will be at the front entrance of Centennial Park to accept cash donations for the food bank.

Sue Cesco, a Rotary Club member and a liaison with youth and the community, said Youth Community Helpers contacted the Rotary with their pumpkin path idea, and since the two groups have the same goal, they're combining their efforts. The teens have been partnering with the Rotary since 2016.

"Their approach has been outstanding,” said Cesco, noting that the teens wanted an exclusive time for seniors to visit the path.

“I've seen some really great leadership from this group. Their focus is mental health - that's the priority for them."

Cesco said Rotarians will carve pumpkins and display them at the park, and Jasper Rotary Club will donate $2,000 to the food bank.

She said she hopes to see great participation in the event.

"Help us bring cheers to those who will need it," she said.

Youth Community Helpers is a student club run by Community Outreach Services’ teen outreach worker, Anna DeClercq. She said throughout the year, the group volunteers and organizes events, supporting the school community and the community at large.

DeClercq said, "The food bank has always been a critical resource in our community, but this year with COVID-19 leaving many people unemployed or underemployed, it has become even more important.

“We are so grateful for the work that is done by the food bank’s dedicated volunteers and we hope that this event, like our annual Trick or Eat, will help to stock the shelves for winter to ensure that Jasper’s most vulnerable are well fed and supported."

Jasper Food Bank president, Jean-Marie Hannaford, welcomes support from the Youth Community Helpers and the Jasper Rotary Club.

"It's fantastic," she said. "Both of those groups are very supportive. And this year has been no exception."

She added that this year's plan to accept donations of cash rather than food items is “ideal” because the food bank has good non-profit rates through local and regional distributors.

The Pumpkin Path is open on Friday, Oct. 30, from 6 p.m. for seniors only, and from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. for everyone else.

Community members are encouraged to bring their pumpkin works of art to the park for display too. Drop-off time is from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the 30th, and the pumpkins can be picked up at 9 p.m. Any pumpkins still left at the park by 9:30 p.m. will be composted.

Costumes are optional, masks are mandatory and the entry fee is a cash donation to Jasper Food Bank. Lights, pumpkins and decorations will show the path to take.

Food bank need

The need for groceries from Jasper Food Bank has increased notably since the COVID pandemic was declared.

Hannaford said before COVID, the food bank would see as many as six people a week.

Now, they’re set up for 20-plus households.

"There's been a little bit of up and a little bit of down during the summer," Hannaford said.

As of Oct. 27, there were 23 households signed up - 40 adults and 17 kids - and last week there were 30 households with 43 adults and 17 kids.

Hannaford said that with town getting quieter, there is an increase (in requests), although the week of Sept. 24 showed the lowest number of requests since the pandemic was declared - 18 households with 32 adults and 12 kids.

If you need help from Jasper Food Bank, contact Jean-Marie Hannaford by text or phone at 780-931-5327. Leave one message with your name, address and number of people in your household. You will be contacted as soon as possible to make arrangements for pick-up or delivery.

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh