By Bob Skolnik
That's the ambitious goal for how many meals to pack April 14 at the Feed Our Community Day that will be held at Hauser Junior High School. Feed Our Community Day is a new element this year of the annual Hauser Canned Food Drive which is now in its 48th year.
"If we can pack 50,000 meals, that's a lot of food," said Lisa Gaynor, the chairwoman of the Hauser Food Drive.
Saturday volunteers will work two-hour shifts at Hauser from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., packing dry macaroni and cheese meals.
"It's fun and all for a good cause," said Gaynor who participated in the Hauser Canned Food Drive when she was a student at Hauser.
Cuyler "Butch" Berwanger, known as Mr. B, a former Hauser teacher and counselor who retired in 2009, started the food drive in 1971.
Volunteers who want to help pack meals Saturday are encouraged to sign up for a two-hour shift online at www.feed6.org/hauser.html or just show up. While no contribution is required to volunteer, the organizers of the event are recommending that volunteers contribute $5 to help defray the costs of the event.
For the past month, Hauser Junior High students and community members have been bringing non-perishable food items to the school and to 12 drop-off sites around the community. The donated food then goes to the Riverside Township Food Pantry or to the Salvation Army Red Shield Food Pantry in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.
The Riverside Township Food Pantry, located on the third floor of Riverside Township Hall, helps about 40 families a month, Gaynor said. Last year, food donated during the food drive helped feed 1,400 families and 350 individuals in Englewood.
"It is really the largest food donation that we get from a private entity, and it really lasts for a large part of the year for the people that we serve on the South Side," said Lt. Corey Hughes of the Salvation Army.
This year, organizers set a goal of collecting 35,000 cans or packages of non-perishable food. All non-perishable food items are welcomed. The food drive began on March 16 and will run until April 27.
Food can be donated at Hauser or at one of the local drop-off points, including Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road; the Riverside Public Library, 1 Burling Road; Riverside Foods, 48 E. Burlington St.; Riverside Bank, 17 E. Burlington St.; PNC Bank, 40 E. Burlington St; the Riverside Police Department, 31 Riverside Road; Athletico, 51 E. Burlington St.; North Riverside Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave.; and the North Riverside Public Library, 2400 Desplaines Ave.
Students will be on hand to take food donations at Hauser on the mornings of April 17, 20, 24, and 27 from 7:30 a.m. until 8 a.m.
Hauser students deliver the food to the Riverside Township Food Pantry about once a month during the food drive.
"They see that hunger is right here," Gaynor said. "There's hunger all over the place. There's kids that are hungry; there is hunger is this community."
In addition to collecting food, Hauser students have contributed money to the food drive. A "penny wars" competition recently raised $717 from Hauser students.
Donations from local businesses and community members are also sought and go toward purchasing the macaroni and cheese that will be packed on Saturday and to buy additional food items. Each macaroni and cheese meal costs only about 25 cents to prepare.
Financial contributions can be made at the Hauser PTO website, (www.hauserpto.org) or by checks made out to the Hauser PTO and dropped off at Hauser or mailed to the PTO at the school's address, 65 Woodside Road, Riverside, 60546.