The 32nd annual Crothersville FFA Toy and Food Drive is one for the record books.
The biggest difference this year was having to make up for the loss of nearly $4,000 since the 26th annual craft show was canceled in November due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Other changes included sanitizing toy donations and FFA members wearing gloves as they assembled fruit baskets.
Then during Saturday’s distribution day, the 50-plus volunteers had to have their temperature checked upon arrival, wear face masks and practice social distancing. Boxes of toys and food were spread around the Crothersville school building, and while making deliveries, volunteers placed the items outside each house and knocked on the door or rang the doorbell so there was no contact with the recipients.
Despite all of the differences, one thing remained the same: Tons of food and toys were delivered.
In a pandemic year, everything came together and a record was set with 20.8734 tons of food distributed.
“Two months ago, we were told we couldn’t do it. Two months ago, we were told this is not going to happen, and so we started chipping away at how to make it happen, so I give kudos to these kids and the people that surround this event,” Crothersville FFA Adviser Linda Myers said.
Once Myers was given approval to move forward with the annual effort, she said people began asking how they could help.
“It’s not one person that can run this,” she said. “It’s just everybody chipping away at how to overcome an obstacle that’s insurmountable.”
One step at a time, one hurdle at a time, Myers and her FFA members worked through the process to make the 32nd annual Toy and Food Drive happen.
“I feel a huge sense of accomplishment because we were told we couldn’t. It was just all odds were against us,” Myers said. “The officers sat around the table like, ‘What are we going to do?’ head down, doom and gloom and ‘We can’t do this.’ It was just one step at a time. It all came together.”
Myers said this was the first time the craft show had to be canceled.
That was a big hit because money raised from vendor fees, porkburger sales and a silent auction at the event goes toward buying items for the Toy and Food Drive.
“We waited until the end of September to make that final call, and after I called the health department and I talked to Dr. (Terry) Goodin (Crothersville superintendent), we absolutely could not do that,” she said. “That put us about two months behind trying to find how we’re going to secure funds.”
Fortunately, they made up for the shortfall.
Premier Companies in Seymour presented a donation and two grants totaling $4,500, Walmart in Salem donated $2,500 and provided a discount and the Community Foundation of Jackson County awarded a $3,000 grant via the Immanuel United Church of Christ Vernon Township Community Endowment.
“After I got the Community Foundation money, then I knew it was no backing out. I was going. After that, I knew I was all systems go,” Myers said. “Then I had to come back to the school and tell Dr. Goodin, ‘I’ve got my seed money. What do you want me to do?’ and he said, ‘As long as we’re in school, you can have it. If we go to all virtual, you can’t do it.’”
Crothersville was still in school, and donations continued to come in from local individuals and a couple of industries in town, so the project moved forward.
“I’ve got a page and a half of just individuals $20, $50. I got a $200 donation yesterday,” Myers said. “Crothersville people stepped up.”
The donations allowed for a food order to be placed with Walmart and Aldi and for FFA members to shop for toys.
Also, in the two days before delivery, the Crothersville High School junior and senior classes came up big time with food donations. After the juniors brought in 4,800 items on Thursday, the seniors topped them with 7,200 items Friday.
“Between those two groups, over 10,000 cans were brought in in a matter of a couple of days that I wasn’t prepared for,” Myers said.
Junior Ella Plasse, who is secretary of Crothersville FFA, said even though her class didn’t win the friendly competition, she was still happy to contribute to the effort.
“We just really want to help our community. We were just in it to help the community,” she said. “The seniors really brought in some stiff competition on the last day. We unfortunately didn’t win, but we gave it our best shot.”
For Saturday’s delivery day, Wischmeier Trucking loaned a truck, a trailer and pallet jacks to use, and once again, the Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department assisted with the use of its trucks and manpower.
FFA members at the junior-senior high school, parents, siblings, FFA alumni, FFA district officers, firefighters and others in the community were among the volunteers delivering toys and food.
“It was amazing,” Plasse said. “All the time, we were just kind of on edge, we never know what’s happening, one day going from not being able to have it, and then just the joy of breaking a record and being able to deliver and help more than we’ve ever done before is just an amazing feeling.”
This was her fifth year helping with the Toy and Food Drive, and Plasse said she wouldn’t miss it for the world.
“I think everyone coming back after they graduate, it just shows how amazing this is for not only the people receiving it but the people that are able to give, too,” she said. “It’s just a huge deal to be able to deliver this much food and help this many families.”
Malachi and Travis Copple and one of their sons, Nathan, volunteered for the first time. As a sixth-grader, this is Nathan’s first year in FFA, and he and his parents wanted to be involved with the Toy and Food Drive.
They, however, didn’t know what to expect.
“Absolutely no idea,” Malachi said. “We’ve never seen anything of this magnitude before. We’ve helped out a lot of other places, and nothing is at a scale like this that we’ve ever helped with.”
Seeing boxes of toys and food spread out in the school hallways was a little overwhelming, but the Copples played a big part in delivering them to local families.
“It’s kind of like they tell us at work: When somebody tells you to eat a whole elephant, you just have to take one bite at a time. It’s the only way to do it,” Travis said, smiling.
All of the time and effort was worth it when the Copples dropped off toys and food at homes.
Knowing they were making a difference for people was their reward, Travis said.
“Seeing the little girl we just saw get so excited, it was so cute,” Malachi said after making their first delivery. “They were very thankful, but also they were completely shocked at the amount of stuff that they were receiving. They were like, ‘Wow! I can’t believe this. This is unreal.’ Boxes kept coming.”
Their good first experience helping with the Toy and Food Drive has the Copples ready and willing to do it again in 2021.
“We definitely want to bring more people to help out next year,” Travis said.
“We want to get the word out. We want to get more help. We want to help,” Malachi said. “It’s surreal, it’s emotional and I’m glad that we’re able to help.”
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For information about Crothersville FFA, visit facebook.com/cvilleffa.