May 16 Miracle volunteers moving a mountain of food

Chatham-Kent is proving the old adage that you can’t have too much of a good thing.

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Chatham-Kent is proving the old adage that you can’t have too much of a good thing.

Volunteers continue to sort and distribute the mountain of donations from the May 16 Miracle food drive.

“It’s been quite the miracle that keeps on giving,” said Brent Wilken, one of the event’s organizers. “Everybody’s still working very hard on doing that. We have a lot of food to deal with. Luckily, we have a lot of help, too.”

Volunteers went door to door in several communities Saturday to gather food left on porches and doorsteps. One box included a $2,000 cheque.

Donors also brought food to more than 50 drop-off spots, many in rural areas.

The donations will fill shelves at Chatham-Kent’s food banks, which have been much busier than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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“I’m just totally overwhelmed,” captain of logistics Dava Robichaud said. “I couldn’t even talk on Saturday. I kept crying.”

Food collected in Chatham at homes and drop-off centres all ended up at Thames Campus Arena, where approximately 60 volunteers daily are still sorting and boxing donations. Some work all day, others for a few hours.

“We’ve got people who can’t go to work because of COVID-19, we’ve got retirees, we’ve got students, and we’ve got people who come after work or on their day off,” Robichaud said.

Boxes are stacked on pallets and then wrapped in plastic. Some food banks come to pick up donations. Others send shopping lists that are filled by volunteers.

If the food banks don’t have room once everything at the arena is packaged, Robichaud is confident a temporary home can be found.

“People in Chatham-Kent have been very generous,” she said. “I’m sure someone will step up and say, ‘I have a warehouse. You’re welcome to use it.’”

Most food is staying in the community where it was donated. But some places, such as Shrewsbury, have more food than storage space.

“They were going to ship their excess food to Chatham because they had nowhere to store it,” Wilken said. “But then they came up with this idea. My dad (Tom Wilken) knew that only 30 per cent of the people in need go to the services. … The most effective thing they’ve ever done is when they go find the people in need.”

Volunteers in Shrewsbury asked around to learn who needed help, then left food on their doorstep.


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“They’ve been so receptive to it and appreciative,” Brent Wilken said. “… (We) get them in the system, trusting the system  and then come two months when Shrewsbury runs out of food, they’re used to getting helped and then they slowly transfer them over to Blenheim.

“It’s a pretty amazing thing to get that other 70 per cent of people, or a higher percentage of them, into the help system.”

Wilken has spoken this week to many organizers and volunteers about Saturday’s first-time event. They’re still blown away by the public’s response.

“Every single one of them is saying they’ve never seen anything like this and they never imagined seeing something like this,” he said.

The food is still being counted. A total may be available by the end of the week.

But, said Wilken, “the number’s just the icing on the cake.”

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