Black Rock Gives Back

Erie’s Black Rock Elementary School held its ninth annual “Black Rock Gives Back” holiday food drive for the Erie Community Food Bank on Tuesday evening, Dec. 6 – perhaps its most successful ever. With 565 students and 6,941 pounds of donated food, the school broke its own records for participation and sharing.

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Marianne Farnum, secretary of the food bank, said that the Black Rock food drive is the pantry’s largest contributor of nonperishable items, and she expects the school’s donations to last until this time next year.

“Black Rock by far is the largest benefactor of nonperishable food. They have a huge impact,” Farnum, a volunteer for more than 17 years, said.

While some area businesses and individuals offer supplementary donations throughout the year, the pantry depends on the annual Black Rock drive, and Erie Elementary school’s annual canned goods drive, which recently gathered 3,800 cans, to provide the core stock of nonperishables.

The benefits of the annual event, however, extend far beyond the food bank and its clients.

The drive is an opportunity to take care of people in our community who don’t have as much as we do – that’s why we donate directly to the Erie food bank, principal Cathy O’Donnell said.

According to O’Donnell, the drive aligns with a central aspect of the school’s mission, which is to help students understand that they can make a difference in the world, globally and locally.

O’Donnell also praised the rather unique format of the drive, which was initiated by Robin Kitlowksi, current PTO president, for its community-building power.

Typically, someone donating to a food drive places items in a large bin, leaving them there for others to transport at the appropriate time.

Black Rock Gives Back, on the other hand, is an event. Families bring donations, teachers and staff serve hot cocoa and cookies, kids can join a caroling session, while volunteer teachers, staff and families collect and transport items.

O’Donnell said the event “facilitates interaction.”

“I think it is very unique. Every school I have been in has always done that traditional ‘Bring in your can and someone picks it up,’” O’Donnell said.

Kitlowski said that since the school had just opened in 2008 when they began the drive, it was important to find ways to bring people together.

Until recently, the drive focused on standard nonperishables, mostly cans collected at an event.

Over the past few years, however, as she developed a closer relationship with the food bank, Kitlowski wanted the school to provide what was most needed.

Now, a list of requested foods, such as bottled juice, pancake mix and syrup, peanut butter and jelly, and small bags of flour and sugar, is divvied up among different classes.

Whatever the item, community support has been there from the beginning.

“I remember that year (2008) being blown away,” Kitlowski said.

“It is fun to watch it become a favorite family event at the school. I would say we have always had really good participation. People come out,” she said.