AURORA — Since its first effort five years ago, the city’s Fill a Bag, Feed a Family spring food drive has collected enough food to get the Volunteers of America’s food pantry through the summer months without having to ration food.

About 75,000 pounds of food has been collected locally over the past four years, and organizers of this year’s campaign are hoping to get close to, if not surpass, the 100,000-pound mark.

Christ Community Chapel’s Aurora campus Food2Share ministry encourages the community to step up to the plate again to help those in dire need. The drive has been moved up three weeks from last year’s dates.

On Saturday, April 13 starting at 9:30 a.m., volunteers will deliver empty food bags throughout the community for about 1 1/2 hours. Then on April 20, more than 300 expected volunteers will pick up the donated food and inspect, sort and store it for the summer.

"We moved the drive up this year because it was tough getting volunteers once the Aurora Baseball League season started," said event chairman and Aurora resident Bruce Harris. "We also shouldn’t conflict with prom and testing in the schools."

Harris said volunteer signups are behind pace, and many more helpers are needed. He urges local residents to visit to sign up. "We need you; needy residents need you," he said.

"We have an opportunity to give a little time and a little food, and show our fellow residents that we care about them," said Harris. "Each year, the success of the program depends upon families who are willing to help deliver and collect food bags."

In the first four years of the drive, close to 75,000 pounds of food have been collected. Last year, about 250 volunteers collected about 19,000 pounds. The latter amount translates into about 8,500 meals for Aurorans in need.

According to Harris, plans for the food drive begin in November, and it relies on many businesses to donate things needed to make it possible. Aurora City Council and Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin are among those who offer enthusiastic support.

"The Aurora Food Pantry works year-round to provide food to families and individuals who are in a very desperate situation," explained Harris. 

"Most of the year food donations from the community fill the pantry’s needs, but the summer is an annual crisis for shortages."

He noted for 35 years the Aurora pantry, and nearly all other pantries across America, ran short of food. "Summer is the worst time of year to get food donations, and as a result rationing is a common practice," said Harris.

"We really appreciate the Fill a Bag, Feed a Family effort," said VOA food pantry manager Jeff Jackson. "It comes at a good time of year, and helps to keep our pantry full over the summer."

"It would be a wonderful thing if we reached the point in Aurora and throughout the world when families and people in difficult circumstances didn’t need help getting something as basic as food," said Harris.

"But the fact is portions of our population will always find a time in their lives when something as basic as three meals a day is more a dream than a reality."

Harris pointed out there are many families in Aurora who never have to worry about how to feed their children, and on the surface the community appears to be financially secure.

"The truth is that last year there were more than 90 residents who were in either a temporary crisis — which made feeding themselves a frightening, day after day task — or they were locked into a lifelong battle to stay alive.

"Food, after all, is not a luxury, but a fundamental necessity for daily life."

Harris explained McMaster Carr has agreed to provide about 5,000 square feet at its new warehouse on South Chillicothe Road for volunteers to sort the food, and a new sorting system will be used.

Once the food is packed into specially made bins and boxes, it will be taken to the nearby MyTee Products warehouse for storage until needed at the VOA pantry.

Organizers of the drive stress that residents should not place expired food items in the bags. In past years, the drive collected several boxes of expired food, which legally cannot be given away by the pantry.

Local Boy Scout Troop 269 and Cub Scout Packs 3265 and 3269 are among those who will aid the food collection effort this year through the Scouting for Food program.

Since 2004, the program has collected and donated more than 60,000 pounds of food and close to $6,000 in cash locally. Last year, the Scouts collected about 6,000 pounds.

"After 16 years, I’ve found a capable young man to continue the tradition and work that I started," said Scouting for Food founder Gary Jancsurak.

"The first year we went door to door and covered 500 houses. We eventually built it up to 2,500 residences. It's great to see how my original idea has grown into Fill a Bag."

Erik Snyder is taking over the chairmanship and organizing of Scouting for Food. Scouts will collect food and monetary donations at the Marketplace at Four Corners Walmart store on April 27-28.

Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400, ext. 4189 or