In 2020 food insecurity is an issue now more than ever and in these desperate times the Greg Gannon Food Drive is doing everything it can to help people in need. In this interview I sat down with Rick Gannon (President of the Greg Gannon Food Drive) to discuss what it is doing to help people in 2020.
A lot of people are gonna be seeing this, they do not know what the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive is and who it helps. What is it, who does it help?
(Rick) Well, great, so, you know, talking about the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive, this is our 33rd year of doing this at Blessed Sacrament. And it was started by my brother back then with his family, as a way for people to participate as a family, to do some sort of service for their ability to kind of get involved with it in a hands on way. And what’s grown out of that is we now have over 10 different parishes throughout the archdiocese doing this every single year, over 3000 people participate. And the great thing about the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive is the obvious, right? We’re collecting food that’s going to the needy and with the COVID situation that’s happening this year, the need has just grown exponentially. Huge numbers of people are requesting food for the very first time. But the great thing at Blessed Sacrament, it’s been a community event. We have over 500 people inside of our parish, both people that are teachers, the kids obviously, elder parishioners that have done it their whole life and did it with my brother when he started it back 33 years ago. And it’s a great way for the community to come together. One of our parishioners once said it was like a barn raising. We come together and one day, at the end of the day, we’ve completed this task that has served so many people. And the joy that we get out of it in coming together is really just a fantastic thing that every year people look forward to it.
To people who don’t know what it is I’ve been doing this event my entire life, how important it is, is it to have the kids involved in this event?
(Rick) Well, this is a family and friend event, right? So if you look at it just so for people that have never done this before we ask each family to take a territory. A territory is about 150 to 200 houses that you’ll distribute bags that have the message with the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive is doing, who we support and what it’s all about. With that territory you’ll usually get another family and now what we were trying to do, again, building on the community aspect of it is doing something together. This is not just a chore that you’re doing something. This is something that’s a feel good for your family, your friends, and the Blessed Sacrament community in general. So your family and friends will go out and cover this 200 house territory, hand out bags on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday before December 5th. And then on December 5th, what we used to do is come together and have a great social at the church. Everybody would have coffee, they’d have donuts. Kids would shoot hoops outside. We’d have a little prayer service. You’d hear from somebody to speak about what it means to do this and what good we’re providing. And obviously this year is gonna be different, we’ll talk about that later, but the great thing about it is once you do that and you come to Geico, I always say, it’s like the movie, the “Field of Dreams”. You’re thinking, oh, here’s what we’ve done. We’ve collected 400, 500 or 1,000 cans. And you show up and you see these 60 centers of food pantry, people waiting for this food. And all these cars are lining up at Geico to drop them off and to pick them up. And the smiles on people’s faces from seeing these hundreds of volunteers come together. It’s just, it’s a great way to kick off the holiday season. You’ve just finished Thanksgiving. You’re coming into advent and it’s like, this is really what it’s all about. This is really, it’s such a feel good that people get back from giving. And it’s an amazing thing that the giving part is really what it’s all about. Teaching your kids that there’s more life than what we live on a day to day basis.
It truly is a great time. And you see everybody running around and all the shirts, it’s a lot of fun.
(Rick) What’s crazy about is you’ll, you know, and you’ll start to see it inside the Blessed Sacrament is we ask for new families. We try to get the K one, two, three, ’cause you know, as people age out and they go on to high school, you know, we got to fill in the ranks of the 500 people. Even though people will stay and do this, you still need the younger family. So they’ll sign up saying, “Hey, this might be a good thing for us to do. You know, let’s just go try it and see what it’s like.” They’re unknown, but what happens is they do it and they see all this joy and this fun that we’re talking about and they see the other families and they say, “Oh, there’s Larry, he, you know, he coached our kids at such and such. Hey coach, how you doing?” And there’s so and so doing this. And there’s my teacher from, you know, the third grade, that’s here today doing it too. And you’re like, “Wow, this is such a good thing.” Then they get suckered into it. They get it, they get the whole feel for it. And the great thing about it is that, you know, at the end of it, it’s like, “All right, we can’t wait until next year, let’s go do it.” You know, and people sign up and they stay forever.
We’ve now got families, they’ve got four generations of people, like four generations, I mean, that’s crazy. You know, we got, my brother’s friends, you know, whose kids do it, whose grandkids are doing it, you know? And it’s just an awesome thing to see all these generational teams come together and have a good time. And it’s, what funny side story to this is that, you know, we try to make sure that territories are near your house and where your families and your friends are. It doesn’t always work out and you know, we’ll talk about, “Hey, can we bring somebody in to help you?” You know, like, “No, no, this is our territory.” This is like having Redskin tickets in the old days. You know, people want their territories, right?
Absolutely, absolutely. You mentioned Greg, obviously, you know, started this and his grandkids are now involved, you know, 33 years ago when he started this, with the size and the amount of people that the event helps and everything. What do you think if he saw it today, what do you think he would think?
(Rick) Well, I’m sure he would be proud of it and think it’s just fantastic, but my brother always dreamed big, you know, and just starting this thing was, you know, he was collecting people that collected cans, that helped others and his whole life was about that. You know, he ran a nonprofit called the Higher Achievement Program that’s won presidential awards that has put through 10,000 kids, 10,000 kids in the city of Washington. It’s now expanded to Richmond and Baltimore and is, you know, just, he’s always seen the bigger picture, but for him it was about one person making a difference. And I always tell people like, “Well, what difference does it make?” You know, we collect 200 cans or 1,000 cans but when you think about one person, my brother, what he did, both in starting things, what he did for people inside the inner city, what he’s done for people inside of our own parish. And now we have 3000 people doing it every year. Last year we collected our 2 millionth can. 2 million cans, it’s mind blowing, you know.
On a side note, I always count how many times people call me Greg,, people that don’t know me and it’s like, I never correct them. I keep a little checklist and it’s like, that’s him saying hello from heaven. You know, so it’s always a wonderful thing that, you know, during this year, it kinda brings him back to life and keeps him in life ’cause people will come up to me and say, ” I know your brother, such and such”, you know. Every year I have a story that comes out of it, it’s like, it’s my Christmas story. It’s my hallmark moment, you know, it’s like every year I hear something that somebody how he touched their lives, whether they’re Blessed Sacrament parish or recipient, or, you know, your brother started the Higher Achievement Program and my kids are successful because of it, you know? So it’s, personally, it’s a feel good for me, you know?
So let’s get to it, COVID, weird year. What’s going on with the food drive, is it still happening? What are we doing? What’s going on? Let’s tell everybody what the, what the plan is.
(Rick) 33rd year, nothing stopping us, COVID is not stopping us, okay? This is happening and it’s happening on December 5th. It’s going to be different because of COVID, right? But we still have a way to do this that’s going to be safe for the families, safe for the kids, safer to recipients, and still allows to come together as community. Will we be able to meet in church? Not gonna happen this year. Will we be able to have the social at Geico parking lot, eat pizza and tell stories and catch up with people? Not gonna happen this year, but we’re still gonna make it happen. And we’re still going to have a way that this is gonna be a feel good for us and still allow us to do what we’ve done for the last 33 years, is serve those families that need it the most. There’s an expression we use called families for families. And this is what it’s all about. So mark your calendar, it’s happening, December 5th. Other parishes are gonna continue to do it. Again, it’s gonna changed, but we’re gonna bring in new families. We’re gonna continue to do what we’ve done in the past and we’re gonna provide food to the people that need it the most.
And now more than ever, I feel like it’s more important, kids aren’t in school so food deficiency with kids, who aren’t getting lunch at school and everything else that’s going on with jobs and all that. Like it’s even more important now to be involved and to get more people doing this and more donations and more cans than ever.
(Rick) So the reality of it is you looked at it and I’ll talk a little bit about what we’ve done during the summer in a second, but kids, a lot of kids get their food from school. And so as school is remote these kids aren’t getting their food. The buzzword you hear around food is food insecurity. What does food insecurity mean? That’s not a homeless person that’s looking for his next meal. That’s not somebody that’s maybe be poor and out. That’s a subset of what it is. You could have an average middle class family in every community that doesn’t have enough food to put food on the table for the family on a seven day a week basis. And you see these people and what got us started doing this food drive back in April for, through the summer is watching the lines on TV. I saw a film clip from the news where people were waiting for three hours, three hours to get food to take care of their family. And to me, you know, that is just mind blowing. And that’s, you know, what you think about now is the winter is the hardest time. And these food pantries that come and participate every year. There’s 60 pantries that we participated every year and we’re giving them each year 150,000 cans of food, 150,000. And that goes a long way to get them through the winter. And so when you think about it, back to the kids not having food if they’re at home that need is gonna grow and continue to grow. And what’s happening today right now, which is really serious is that money is running out. You know, government checks are running out for people. So people have less money to pay rent, to pay for their food. And so they’re dependent upon these food pantries even more. And it’s really, you know, important for us to be able to get this food to them because our food goes directly to these pantries. There’s no middleman, so there’s no cost associated with it so they can take and hand it to these families immediately that what we do in December might take them through into mid February or early March depending on our success.
For everybody watching, the first way you can get involved in the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive is December 5th is the food drive. You can sign up at ggcfd.org, it’s ggcfd.org, and you can sign up for the drive. Now what Rick is also talking about is that the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive doesn’t stop at the drive. There are other ways to participate. I mean, Rick, you wanna talk about what you guys, you talked a little bit about what you guys have been doing. How else can people Volunteer and participate?
(Rick) So go to the website, sign up to, for December 5th. More information will be coming through the normal distribution channels, through the school, through the parish, and you’ll get it through our usual channels. So look for it, sign up, sign up now. We’ve already had people sign up now. It’s like early voting. You can go ahead and sign up right now and we will keep you informed as to how this thing is gonna play out for December 5th. It’ll be another wonderful event. So back to what’s been happening this summer. When we look back in March when COVID hit and was just, changed all of our lives, right? When we looked at this, we decided to get the GGCFD team involved in doing this with a weekly food drive. And what we’ve done instead of collecting food, we’ve actually been collecting money and going out purchasing food, fresh food, which is a really key thing. It’s very hard to get fresh food from the Share Food Foundation, it’s part of Catholic charities. And every week we deliver 120 bundles of food to these families throughout different pantries in the archdiocese. And it’s just been amazing to see what some of these pantries have done. So one of these parishes in different parts of our community have open their church doors where they didn’t have food pantries and they are distributing it to their parishioners, to their community. And we just felt like we had to serve a need. And the great thing about it is, is not only are we doing that, but back to the community aspect. So many people asked us, “How do I help?” They drive on a weekly basis. We usually have about eight drivers that are taking food to these various shelters. And the other thing that’s really important for us right now is as you know, in the past, we’ve never asked for money to participate in the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive. The reason being is we get asked for money all the time. It’s very difficult. There’s a lot of great causes that you participate with and then you help. But what we’ve done now is we’ve had to go out and ask for money ’cause we’re not a big nonprofit. This is an annual food drive, but we went out and we raised over $55,000 and we’ve been taking that money and each week buying this food that we get from Share. So we’re asking people, so if you can, go to our website and, ggcfd.org/donate, you know, and give $25, we’ll feed a family of four for three days. If you gave me 100 bucks, we’re gonna buy Thanksgiving for over 200 families. And think about what Thanksgiving will mean to you personally this year. Difference, it’ll be in terms of being able to get together with your family and your friends, but think about, you might not be able to get with your family and friends, think about it if you can’t even afford to have a Thanksgiving dinner. So we’re going to do that. And for the last six months, we’ve been out every single week and delivering food to 120 families at multiple parishes, multiple food pantry. So donate now ggcfd.org/donate.
I’m gonna say it for you, everybody go to the website, ggcfd.org/donate, give $100, help somebody have a great Thanksgiving. Go donate, sign up, get involved in the drive, do anything you can, you know, 2020, we all need to rally now more than ever. So, you know, multiple ways to help, but make sure you go check out that donate page ’cause it’s really helping a lot of people right now.
(Rick) Great, and the other thing I’d like to ask, if everybody would go and use their social media, we’ve got Twitter, we’ve got, you know, our website, we’ve got Facebook, we’ve got Instagram. Different people use different social media. Some people use it all. You know, our, if you look on our website, you can find it. Our Instagram has hashtag GGCFD30, take it and push the story out there. We need this to go viral, we’ re typically an annual event. Now we’ve become a weekly event. And the more people that know about it will sign up to participate in the drive. They’ll sign up to donate. You know, we’ve got a big push to get this Thanksgiving thing done. We got a big push to make the food drive happen, let your friends know that, hey, Greg Gannon is happening and it’s gonna happen for all of us. So we’re really excited that that’s gonna be part of it. So look at social media, push it out there as much as you can and be ready for some fun on December 5th. You know, one of my team members said, “One of the big things that’s happened with COVID is that people don’t have anything to look forward to.” You know, your vacations may or may not have happened. You know, getting together with your friends to watch football games. Getting together with your friends to do the things that we all do that make the fabric of our lives. And one of their children who’s in the eighth grade said, “Mom, you know what I really miss? I miss having something to look forward to.” This is something you can look forward to, right? This is the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive. This is one if you’ve done it in the past, you know what a great event it is. It’s great for your friends or your family, the community. This is something look forward to. It gives you something to look outward for and to be able to participate in and feel good about something positive. You know, instead of talking about COVID, you can talk about dance. You know, let’s talk about cans. That’s what we really wanna talk about, you know?
So for everybody that has not heard of the Greg Gannon Food Drive, get involved, sign up, donate, get involved in the weekly drives, whatever you, whatever you need to do. Help somebody out there that is suffering from food insecurity. Seriously, get involved. It’s a lot of fun, it’s a great cause. And to everybody that does know it, everybody part of the community, share this video, share this, spread the word, make sure that everyone knows about it. Everything going on.