Nearly a decade ago, Evelyn Browne came up with a Halloween idea that would help feed the hungry and bring the community together.
In 1995, It's Spooky to be Hungry started as a food drive in just a few neighborhoods. Now in its ninth year, the drive will have collections Saturday in 135 neighborhoods and 30 businesses, schools and churches throughout the region.
"I think that people want to have the opportunities to do something that is meaningful and positive," Browne said. "Because this is simple and fun, it is easy for people to get involved with, and they feel good when they do it. We feel good. There is so much that we hear all the time that is negative ... but this just tells us that right in our own backyard, there is so much good."
Volunteer collections teams will go door-to-door in Columbia, Richmond, Aiken, Lincoln, McDuffie, Warren and Edgefield counties.
During the drive's first eight years, annual food donations climbed from 2,200 pounds of food to 46,000 pounds and money contributions grew from $1,020 to $24,840.
The event, held each year on the Saturday before Halloween, has become Golden Harvest Food Bank's largest single food and fund drive, said Barry Forde, the food bank's associate director.
The CSRA-based drive already has two satellite events in Summerville, S.C. and Greenwood, S.C.
"When we started it here, we had not idea, nor intention of doing what has happened," Browne said. "All we wanted to do was to do a few neighborhoods and see what we could do for Golden Harvest. If I had had any idea that it would turn out to be what it has, I think I would have been so intimidated that I couldn't envision possibly of doing this."
The volunteer drives are expanding in Columbia County this year with new neighborhood collections in Harlem and Grovetown. Outside the county, Thomson and Dearing will be pulling decorated wagons door-to-door, gathering food and money contributions for the food bank.
"We tried to get them out last year, but we didn't get it all worked out," said Harlem Mayor Scott Dean. "We got them out here this year, and we are going to do four neighborhoods - three in the city and one outside the city."
Browne said she is excited to see involvement spreading.
"The name of our corporation is Big Changes Start Small," Browne said. "We don't expect people to start big. We said, 'Okay, let's just do a couple of neighborhoods. After this year, you'll have a good sense of how it works. If you enjoy it, you can expand next year, etc.'
"Well, within a few weeks everything had grown. They just had so much enthusiasm. They are doing great."
It takes a large band of more than 1,000 volunteers to run the drive, which is a project of Big Changes Start Small.
"We are not looking for anybody to have to do it by themselves," Browne said. "We want people to have the experience of knowing that it is not that any one of us has to do it. It is all of us together that can make it happen - that can make a difference."
Last year's 46,000 pounds of food collected enabled Golden Harvest to provide 34,500 meals to people in its 25-county service area. Forde said all collections from Spooky and similar efforts stays within that area.
According to Browne, the drive's two intertwined goals are to raise funds and food for the food bank and strengthen communities. Since most volunteers work in their own neighborhoods, it gives them a chance to meet their neighbors.
Nearly half of the drive volunteers are children, who encourage their parents to participate each year, Browne said.
"The joy for me is that I meet and talk to so many people, all of whom are bringing the best of themselves to the table," she said. "I hope that is what I am trying to do too. I have made wonderful relationships, some wonderful friendships, and it is all people from every walk of life, every background, belief, all coming together around something that is bigger than any of our differences. It is remarkable."
People wanting to find out more information about the It's Spooky to be Hungry drive or to help out can call 863-5863.
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