To mark the silver anniversary of Indiana County Community Action Program's annual Care & Share Day, the organization and its co-sponsor, The Indiana Gazette, are issuing a hefty challenge to the community: Donate 25 tons of groceries and $25,000.
It's a tall order, sure, but the need is great, says Michelle Faught, ICCAP's executive director.
As the economy remains sluggish and as layoffs have occurred in the area, ICCAP's food bank is being stressed.
According to Faught, the food bank is providing aid to 4,000 households each month. Based on 2010 Census statistics, that accounts for nearly 12 percent of Indiana County households.
"And just in the past month it really picked up," Faught said.
She said that in the first 14 days of this month, the food bank has issued 62 emergency boxes of food, which is more than usual. "So we've definitely seen the increase," she said.
And she is encouraging county residents to make a donation Saturday.
Look for a grocery bag in Tuesday's edition of the Gazette. Fill the bag with nonperishable goods and household supplies. Or money, if you prefer. Drop off the bag at any of the designated points throughout the county.
It has proved to be a winning formula over the last 25 years.
The first Care & Share Day was organized in 1988 and was modeled after a similar program in Fresno, Calif.
Timed to coincide with Indiana University of Pennsylvania's homecoming, it yielded 7 tons of groceries and $2,400.
"The very first Care & Share Day was a big event for ICCAP. We counted on a big turnout of donors, not knowing if folks would really respond to the campaign or not. We were thrilled and overwhelmed by the volume of donors, volunteers and community support," recalled former ICCAP Executive Director Darlene Bigler.
And organizers were all the more overwhelmed when then-Gov. Bob Casey, who happened to be in town that day, presented ICCAP with a $10,000 check intended to be put toward a pickup truck for the food bank.
Former Executive Director Sandi Dill explained that the gift came about after meeting previously with the governor, who asked that ICCAP contact him if he could help in any way.
"We did, and we received the money for the truck, and his wife filmed a public service spot for Care & Share Day that was aired on the Adelphia station," Dill said.
Organizers said the project wouldn't have been successful over the years without the help of innumerable residents and community organizations representing people from all walks of life: fire halls, churches, veterans' organizations, labor unions, bowling leagues and retailers, among many others.
ICCAP officials said the members of those organizations have gone out of their way to help. They recalled, for instance, a friendly competition between Indiana Regional Medical Center and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's District 10 office to see which of the two could outdo the other.
"Remember, the heavier the better. And there are no losers when it comes to donating food," became the battle cry for PennDOT employees.
Shawn Houck, a PennDOT safety press officer, recalled that it was an innovative way to motivate employees to give to the less fortunate.
"And it did," he said.
They also recalled one time in 1994 when a local firefighter couldn't participate on the day Care & Share Day was to occur because his granddaughter was getting married. So he and another fellow firefighter went out in advance of Care & Share Day and began soliciting donations at grocery stores.
And for its part, the Gazette has been glad to have been a part Care & Share Day.
"We at The Indiana Gazette have enjoyed our partnership with ICCAP in the Care & Share program over the last 25 years," said Michael J. Donnelly, publisher.
"With the help and generosity of our readers, the Gazette has raised over $104,000 and 358,000 pounds of food for ICCAP's food bank that feeds the less fortunate of our county. We look forward to continuing this terrific program for years to come," he said.