Scouts' food drive benefits local families

BOALSBURG — Who knew that cake mixes and canned vegetables could be so exciting?

Cub Scouts from Pack 380 and Boy Scouts from Troop 380 certainly had a ball.

Gathered at the Boalsburg Fire Company on Saturday, they gleefully sorted donations to the Food Bank of the State College Area. Plastic bags rustled and cans clinked. Smiling children and their parents rushed around grouping items on tables as if playing a game, shrinking a mass of groceries to nothing in less than half an hour.

Fun aside, Zack Gould, a 6-year-old Cub Scout from Boalsburg, knew why he was there.

“Because I thought it would be helping people,” he said.

And it did, to the tune of about 4,000 goods collected from Harris Township homes, one of several Scout food drives conducted Saturday in the area.

Local food banks will need every box and can.

A food supply shortage caused by increased demand, fewer donations and manufacturer product recalls has local human service officials worried about serving families struggling with rising living costs.

“This is the very first time in my memory that the food banks have experienced low supplies of food,” said Bob Ott, director of the Centre County Office of Adult Services.

The shortage is coming at a bad time. Linda Tataliba, director of the Food Bank of the State College Area, said the monthly numbers of families receiving groceries have dropped from a record 200 in June, but they’re still about six families per month higher than last year. By the middle of this year, Tataliba said, some families already had reached their annual maximum of six visits.

“We saw an increase in frequency of use over the summer months,” she said.

Scouts James Ball, Ethan Wagner and Jay Runkle did their part to help.

All from Troop 380, they piled into the sport utility vehicle of volunteer driver Kevin Zarnick and headed down U.S. Route 322 to the Centre Estates and Bear Mountain developments.

At the Centre Estates apartments, they fine-tuned their routine — scan for plastic bags on doorsteps, then once the car braked, scramble out from both sides.

Not every stop yielded paydirt. Wagner, 15, of Boalsburg, found a bag full of bags for recycling. Ball, 17, of Linden Hall, discovered a stash of birdseed. One sack contained apples, nice but unacceptable — a fact Zarnick explained to the confused-looking woman holding them.

“We can’t take anything that’s not wrapped,” he said out his window. “We can’t take that, but thanks.”

Perishable goods were against the rules also, which left Wagner puzzled by the contents of one bag.

“These are wrapped cabbages,” he said. “We’re allowed to take them, right?”

In ritzy Bear Meadows, Zarnick slowed down at one mansion. Bags had been spotted. Runkle, 17, from Spring Mills, thought twice about cutting across a wide lawn, remembering the directive to respect property, and waited to run down a curving driveway.

In the end, soup cans, macaroni and cheese boxes, mashed potato packages and other gifts filled the cargo area, and it was time to return to the fire station.

Ball, wearing his Scout uniform, stood amid the whirlwind of happy sorters and grinned.

“This is the best part right here.”

Staff writer Anne Danahy contributed to this report. Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620.