Boot drive helps collect food for holidays

PUNXSUTAWNEY — This weekend marks the 27th anniversary of the Punxsutawney Fire Department’s annual food drive, which this year will be held Saturday and Sunday.

Bill Zimmerman, along with fellow Central Fire Department members Bob Hockinson and Warren Kellert, established the drive in 1983.

Zimmerman said they realized the Salvation Army — the only food bank in town at that time — had a need because people were hurting, just like today.

“We felt it was a good thing to do, to help the Salvation Army once we took care of the people who just fell through the cracks,” he said.

The first year, the drive was held at Central, while during the second year, the collection was also held at Lindsey and Elk Run. The first year was mostly food contributions, which were stacked high in the fire hall.

“The Salvation Army was really pleased with what we did, and the second year, we decided to go more for the cash because they knew what the needs of the community were better than we did,” Zimmerman said.

Tami McFarland, department vice-president, said the need remains the same as it did in 1983.

“I’m very passionate about the food drive,” she said. “I think it’s the best fund-raiser that the fire department does for our community. I don’t think our community realizes how bad off some people are financially, and they truly need the food that we give them. I just think it’s the best thing we do, and I just wish that more people would donate to this cause.”

Every year, the department receives a list of families in need. Everything is purchased through Comet Market.

“If anyone is aware of someone in need, they could just get in touch with any firefighter, and we’ll make sure they receive a donation of a food basket,” McFarland said.

Firefighters will accept non-perishable food items dropped off at any one of the three fire halls.

“We give the rest of the money left over to the four local food banks,” the Salvation Army, St. Vincent DePaul, the First Church of God and Cross Town Ministries, McFarland said. “If every car that drove past us gave $1, we would exceed our greatest expectations.”

She recalled the first year she took part in the food collection.

“We took a basket up to a younger single parent and his teenage daughter. She cried when she saw that we had brought them a gallon of milk,” McFarland said. “After we delivered their food, I went outside and cried because I didn’t realize that there were people in such need in our community. I think this is a wonderful thing that we do.”

Monica Bizousky, the St. Vincent DePaul food bank coordinator, said every penny from donations goes to purchase food.

“The fire department food drive has been a big help to us, especially this time of year,” she said.

Joann Lowmaster, director of the food pantry at the First Church of God, said the bank has served more than 500 families in the past year.

“That is 10 families per week, and we continue to have new ones contact us,” she said. “We distribute food once a month, and we give each family enough for one week, and there’s quite a variety of items.”

Lowmaster said anyone in need should call the church office and leave his or her name and phone number.

“Many people are reluctant to ask; it’s a sense of pride for them,” she said.

Captain Keith Jache, co-commander at the Salvation Army, said the ministry offers an after-school feeding program, serving 50 kids at least three days a week. It also distributes Thanksgiving dinners and food baskets at Christmas.

Cross Town Ministries, a combination of the Woodland Avenue United Methodist Church and the Grace United Methodist Church on Hillcrest Drive, also has a food bank that receives help from the firefighters’ food drive.