By Caitlin Custer, Donor Relations Manager
The Delaware National Guard has been a proud supporter of Food Bank of Delaware for many years. In the past four years, the National Guard has donated over 70,000 pounds of food to help those in need. In 2013, they received the Food Donor of the Year award from the Food Bank at our annual dinner.
Their statewide food drive has grown exponentially since its inception 10 years ago. In 2006, Governor Markell added an initiative for the National Guard, to place a focus on alleviating hunger in the state, which was named the War on Hunger.
“We’re the community as citizen soldiers and citizen airmen, so our soldiers and airmen are throughout the entire state. We have presence in the communities,” explained CSM Robert Miller. “Each one of our facilities is a collection point for the War on Hunger. We go routinely collect donations from those locations and deliver to the Food Bank.” CSM Miller along with CMS Patti-Ann Ottinger spearhead the War on Hunger and are tasked each year with rallying the troops to participate and bring in donations.
Each of the Delaware National Guard’s locations accepts donations in their War on Hunger carts placed in the lobbies and all of their staff sections are encouraged to donate. At the beginning of the War on Hunger, the National Guard initially based their messaging on poundage and meeting their collection goals. While competition is a big component of most food drives, they weren’t getting the response they had hoped for. They decided that along with how much they wanted to collect, they needed to tell the story of why it was important to donate. When they added statistics about children and families experiencing hardship into their plea, they got much better results!
The National Guard still uses the shopping carts, but 10 years later their approach to food drives has changed. What started out as collections for Thanksgiving and Christmas in the lobbies of their facilities has morphed into stand-alone events. As the need in the community grew, they came up with new ideas like the War on Hunger 5k race and encouraged their staff to come up with their own ideas. Last year, there was a Price is Right game and a competition that found an entire elevator being filled with food. Collection has also been worked into existing events such as the annual Christmas Concert and Easter Breakfast where members of the public are also encouraged to bring a donation. Events where friends, family, and members of the community can all participate are great opportunities for the Delaware National Guard to bring to light the importance of supporting the Food Bank’s hunger relief efforts. There are events upstate and downstate to reach their entire base of employees as well as the statewide community.
This past October, the DNG realized they were not yet halfway to their goal and needed to come up with a good plan to spark participation. They struck up a friendly competition with the Navy Operational Support Center in conjunction with the Army/Navy game. The lobby had two decorated donation barrels, one with the army logo and one with navy and the event lasted through December. Friendly taunting of internal sections as well as a challenge to “sink the navy ship” ensued and everyone really got involved with the food drive. In the end while the Army won the food drive and the Navy won the football game, CSM Miller says “everyone went away happy knowing that the really winners were the citizens in need in the state of Delaware.”
The National Guard also sees volunteering as a crucial component to their initiative. “What I really got out of it was that with going and volunteering you really get a feel for what you’re doing for the community” said CMS Patti-Ann Ottinger. The National Guard hopes to evolve their program to the point where employees can come in to volunteer regularly, supporting the War on Hunger by donating their time. It would also be an opportunity for friends and family members to get involved along with the soldiers and airmen to give back to their community.
In 2016, Adjutant General Frank Vavala announced the goal for this year would be 45,000 pounds of food. A lofty goal, but CSM Miller and CMS Ottinger agree – challenge accepted!