Every year in Elmira, Halloween brings two groups of visitors to people’s doors – excited trick-or-treaters looking to add to their bags of candy, and a group of young people too old to trick-or-treat looking to make a difference.
The latter group is part of the CANS project (Citizens Always Need Supper), which began eight years ago. The group travels throughout Elmira every Halloween collecting donations for the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. The idea began with Dustin Martin, a local student now attending the University of Waterloo.
Martin was named the 2009 Outstanding Organization Donor Award from the Food Bank of Waterloo Region and Woolwich Community Services back in September for his work with the CANS project.
“I think I hopped on in the second year they did it,” said Colton Bauman, a friend of Martin’s who took over planning the program when Martin left for school. “I just thought it was a really good idea to be able to help the community and do something with our time that was actually worthwhile on Halloween.”
There were only five or six people out during Bauman’s first year, and they managed to collect a few boxes of food despite less-than-ideal conditions.
“It was raining, and one of our carts broke,” he recalled with a laugh. “We just had a lot of fun and that’s what kept us going.”
The food drive has grown immensely since it started back in 2002; Bauman estimates about 100 people took part in last year’s food drive, and they collected 4,902 pounds of food.
“Originally we took it to Woolwich Community Services, but we started getting too much food for them to handle and they didn’t have room to store it,” he explained. “So we started taking it to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. They’re more than happy to accept it.”
While some residents were suspicious of the group their first few years of running the program – “We had some who weren’t sure what we were doing ask for ID” – the CANS program has taken on a life of its own in recent years.
“We’ve done it long enough that people are expecting it. They ask me ‘are you doing it again this year?’”
Bauman, 20, is finishing high school this year and will be entering the workforce full-time, so he won’t be the one to organize it next year. He and Martin have found a successor to the program, a student named Ben Konig, and he will be the one organizing things going forward.
“We have the process written out and it tends to kind of run itself, but Ben will be the one to get the ball rolling [next year].”
Bauman is also encouraged by the way the program has grown over the years, noting it’s important for young people to remember those who are less fortunate in the community.
“I know young people can sometimes get a bad reputation and seem like they’re lazy, but I think it’s important and they know it’s important. We’re blessed to have food on our table, but some people don’t have that.”