New Castle Cub Scouts hungry to donate 8,000 pounds of food this Thanksgiving season
A large trailer is parked beside the sidewalk flanking the entrance to a New Castle grocery store. As a Saturday sun poured down on morning shoppers, longtime Boy and Cub Scout leader John Harcourt knelt beside one of his young pupils, the trailer at his back.
“We’re going to get enough food to totally fill that trailer next week,” he told the scout, donning a blue-uniform of patches with a red sash at the neck.
For the past 10 Thanksgiving seasons, local Pack 221 has raised thousands of pounds of food donations. Kids — not yet old enough to drive — go home to home, leaving bags on New Castle residents’ door handles. On that bag is a sign suggesting the resident pitch in a donation.
The bags are then collected a week later, and everything to the last crumb is donated to LIFT-UP, a grassroots organization that’s helped families in need throughout the Colorado and Roaring Fork valleys since 1982. Once everything’s gathered, LIFT-UP volunteers redistribute the food to New Castle residents.
This Thanksgiving’s effort is no different. But Harcourt said this year the 35 kids in his troop aim to accumulate at least 8,000 pounds of donated food, which should beat the whopping 6,000-pound record set by the local Cub Scouts five years ago.
“I’m thinking, that’s got to be some kind of record. For 4,500 people to donate 6,000 pounds of food, that’s like a pound and a half per person,” Harcourt said. “So I looked into a world record. And the world record is technically one pound per person. It was Durham, North Carolina.”
The metro area population of Durham, North Carolina, is more than 500,000. Harcourt said the feat was accomplished at about 550,00 pounds of food.
“So, I thought, let’s try to beat that,” he said.
Referring to a map with every New Castle neighborhood circled and numbered, parents and scouts alike split up into groups to tackle each section in town. With their help, 2,200 bags are disseminated in less than two hours.
The past 10 years have seen New Castle donate 92,000 pounds of food — all with the help of Harcourt, his scouts, their parents and even some assistance with teenagers from the Coal Ridge Honor Society.
One of the helpers — 10-year-old Cub Scout Isa Marquardt — was walking door to door in a neighborhood in downtown New Castle. With her parents nearby, she visited unfamiliar front porches and traversed swampy backyards showing no noticeable hesitancy.
“I’m hanging them up for the food drive so that we can donate food to the people who don’t have enough money to get food,” she said. “It’s really important because you need food to survive, and the people who can afford it really, really need this food in order to be alive.”
New Castle mother Allie Hagen, as her boys A.J. and Gordy Hagen prepared to set out to a neighborhood, said the effort provides critical lessons for children.
“It’s so nice to show them that they need to help around the community,” she said. “It takes a village.”
For LIFT-UP lead volunteer Kathi Arthur, a former pantry manager, that village does more than feeding its locals.
“It is about the food, but it’s also about the networking that we do,” she said. “A lot of times we just have people that come in that need a hug, or they need somebody to listen.”
LIFT-UP, collaborating with nonprofit organization New Castle River Center, is coming off one of the most unusual times in its long-standing existence. With its doors closed to in-person foot traffic for a year prior to July, it operated solely on distributing food donations via a mobile pantry, Arthur said.
That’s changed, however. People are once again allowed through the doors, and LIFT-UP tries to meet their needs, Arthur said.
“With the Cub Scouts and John Harcourt’s help, we can meet all those needs,” she said. “They get to pick what they want, and they get to get a hug, and it’s just a great community to work in, and the scouts are awesome.”
Harcourt is 75 years old now, and when he’s not helping with scouts, he spends a lot of time teaching classes on fly-fishing.
Perhaps he’d like to spend more of his time fishing.
Arthur won’t let that happen.
“John keeps trying to quit, but it doesn’t work out,” Arthur said. “And we keep recruiting him back.”
With fuel costs rising, Harcourt said there’s likely going to be a big challenge for many residents making a decision between heating their house and filling their gas tank to get to work versus putting food on the table.
“For those that live in New Castle, our little kiddos will be coming by your house on Saturday, Nov. 13, on a really big scavenger hunt, looking for all of your donations that you put on your front porch,” Harcourt said.
Have all bags filled and out by 10 a.m. The New Castle Cub Scouts are scheduled to pick them up at 11 a.m.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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