By CRISTINA JANNEY
Students from Hays High volunteered Tuesday night for the annual Trick-Or-Treat So Others Can Eat because they know what it means to be in need.
Mercedes Nuss, a HHS senior, said when she lived with her mother, her family regularly came to Community Assistance Center for food. The family also received help during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
“It helped out a lot because we didn’t have the money to provide for our family like we wish we would have,” she said. “They helped us a lot, so it feels good to pay it forward and help others who are in the situation I was when I was a kid.”
Nuss collected food door to door for the CAC with fellow students in the HHS JAG-K program. JAG-K helps students who have risk factors that could contribute to them not graduating from high school.
“It is really comforting to know that people care about it as much as they do,” Nuss said of the food drive. “I know when I was a kid, it helped out a lot. It meant a lot to me and my family.”
JAG-K sophomore Ashton Herrman’s family also used a food bank when he was younger.
He said he volunteered, “because we lived in Colby, and we were really poor. We had to go to a friend’s house for hot water. We did [use the food bank]. Now that we are doing better with money, I feel it should be my job, because I have been through it to know how much this helps people.”
“This place is really beautiful. I am really glad the community cares for this. It just warms my heart.”
Twenty-seven organizations collected food across the city. Some of these included Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, FHSU groups and church groups. HHS DECA students, Lions Club, CAC volunteers and church group volunteers helped sort food at the CAC.
Theresa Hill, CAC co-director, said the pre-Halloween food drive is the largest donation event of the year. The food bank shelves were bare leading up to the event, and the center was using monetary donations to fill food needs.
The CAC serves about 5,500 people annually. Between 80 and 100 families receive food from the CAC monthly.
Last year the food drive brought in about 16,000 food items. Organizers were hoping for about 20,000 items this year. The CAC also accepts cash donations during the event.
Shaina Prough is the sponsor for HHS DECA, which helps organize the event. She said Tuesday night collections were looking good. Warm weather seemed to be aiding in collection.
53-year-old Bonnie Werth’s involvement with TOTSOCE goes back to the beginning of the event in 1983, when she and her sister, Connie Haselhorst, began collecting food. The sisters helped make the school-sponsored event through DECA in 1985.
As the food cans clanked and piles of incoming food grew, Werth said watching the event was an “Aha moment.”
“This has really grown to be more than just people from the high school doing it,” she said. “They are seeing the need for having canned good and how it is really benefiting a lot of needy families and people who need help.
“It makes me teary-eyed. It makes me excited to know a lot of people benefit from something that started small and got larger.”
Not only has Werth been participating since the program’s inceptions, she is passing on a passion for giving and volunteerism to younger generations through 4-H and her grandchildren. She collected Tuesday with the Big Creek Astro 4-H Club.
“Giving of your time is what is most important—selflessness,” she said, “and teaching them sometimes we need to take time out of our day, even if it busy, to give something to somebody else.”
She added, “I am just in awe of how many volunteers help now with getting the canned goods moved for the Community Assistance Center.”
The CAC will continue to receive food through this week, so Hill said she didn’t anticipate having a total on food collected through the event until Monday. The CAC hopes the food collected this week will last until the next major food drive sponsored by mail carriers over the Mother’s Day weekend. The food collected during TOTSOCE is also used in the CAC’s annual holiday food baskets.