Hubbub coming through please, make way, make way. The Pelham Cares sorting scene during its annual food drive, December 2017. VOICE PHOTO

Pelham Cares Food Drive runs like well-oiled machine

BY VOICE STAFF

As the food poured in to Pelham Cares’ ad hoc sorting centre on Rice Road on Saturday, dozens of volunteers moved ferociously, offloading bags of food coming in from house pick-ups and putting them onto carts to be taken to various sorting stations. The food drive is Pelham Cares’ main method of stocking its shelves for the year, and while it doesn’t weigh the amount of food coming in, there were surely many thousands of pounds collected on Saturday.

Pelham Cares Coordinator Lori Grande, who was standing amid some ferns at the back of the greenhouse/sort centre, and who was just about the only one not running around feverishly, explained the system.

“It’s hard to see what’s going on unless you already know,” she said. “But we have volunteers who go around to routes in Pelham, picking up food on doorsteps. They load up their cars and drop it off here at the front and back.”

Grande pointed toward the doorway that led out to the drop-off area.

“Then all the food is put onto those big metal carts and wheeled into the front of the sorting area. From there we have runners who pick the food out and bring it to the right table. There it’s put into boxes, and then back onto a metal cart to be brought back outside, where it’s loaded into vans to go back to Pelham Cares’ basement.”

Grande admired the proceedings. “Everything’s been going pretty smoothly so far,” she said, though added that it was too early to gauge just how much food had been collected relative to other years.

Pelham Cares’ Christmas Food Drive has been ongoing for more than three decades, and Grande is confident that it’s one of the biggest events for a Town of Pelham’s size.

“We have so many amazing volunteers,” she said. “Eighty of them here, and then fifteen more at our building on Highway 20. There are so many others out in vehicles picking up food, too.”

In addition to the pleasant, flowery, smell wafting about, Grande said that the greenhouse is a great location for the food to be organized.

Volunteer Pat Schofield, who moved to Pelham from the Barrie area four years ago, said that he too had never seen anything quite like Pelham’s food drive. Schofield’s unofficial title on Saturday was “Box Manager,” and he spent the morning assembling some of the roughly 1000 boxes that would be needed to transport the food. The boxes were stacked like honeycombs several cacti rows away from the food sorting area, but Schofield was moving them four at a time closer to where everyone was working.

“We need a lot of boxes—one every minute for pasta—and people seem to be wasting time walking all the way back there, so I’m stacking them up here,” he said. Schofield has volunteered in the past, and thought that early in the day, this year’s drive was at least as big.

“I haven’t seen as much peanut butter,” he said. “Which is good, because last year I sorted peanut butter, and I think there was too much.”

Looking out at the sea of people carrying around boxes and bags, it was clear that the volunteers came from all corners of Pelham’s demography.

“It’s a real cross-section,” said Grande. “We have some who’ve been volunteering for a long time, and others who are new this year. It’s nice to have a mix between people who know how the system works and others who are here for the first time. Even the kids are really helpful—they know what all the food is and can bring it to the right sorting station.”

Pelham Cares’ Treasurer, Sandra Warden, whose granddaughter helped out as a runner, was operating the volunteer sign-in table on Saturday, concurred with Grande’s assessment.

“There was a hockey team just here,” she said, looking to the refreshment table, where the team, wearing their green Pelham jerseys, was eyeing the snacks and hot chocolate.

“We invite all of our volunteers to come and have soup after. It’s a nice tradition,” she said.

With Warden’s shift over, Grande took over minding the volunteer table as she kept an eye on the proceedings. Someone nearby mentioned that it reminded them of the North Pole. “Santa’s workshop just before Christmas—that’s a good way to put it,” said Grande proudly. “Once you see what’s going on in the chaos, it all makes sense.”