As the holidays approach, the Johnstown-Northridge Community Food Pantry hopes for a record number of donations, said Knights of Columbus Deputy Grand Knight Richard Steyer.
"They're going to try to outdo themselves this year," Steyer said, adding that the need is particularly great this year in the struggling economy.
With that in mind, the annual school food drive to support the food pantry will be held the week of Oct. 1-5. The Johnstown Knights of Columbus sponsor the annual event, along with the schools.
"It is the largest single event in support of our food pantry," Steyer said. "The food donated each year supplies for most of the needs through the end of the calendar year."
Steyer said the Northridge and Johnstown-Monroe school districts compete for the honors of collecting the most food items. Collection boxes are placed in each classroom of the two school systems, and students are asked to bring their items to be placed in boxes. Each item is counted at the end of the collection period, and the winning district is announced. Steyer said within each elementary school in the district, another competition is held for the highest contribution level between the classes. The class with the highest point count in each of the elementary schools receives a free pizza party from Johnnies Villa Pizza. At the end of the collection period, the schools provide assistance at the pantry to sort and place the items on the shelves.
Steyer said students in the higher grades compete for a plaque that represents the winning school district.
"They're competing for honors," he said. In the higher grades, "they should be doing it because it's the right thing to do."
Steyer said Ruth Krumm has been director of the local food pantry for more than 20 years and has been involved with it for more than 40.
"She reports that the need has increased tremendously in the past year because of the economic conditions," he said. In 2011, the pantry served 70 to 90 families in need per month. This year, it serves more than 100 consistently.
Steyer said that last year, 133 Thanksgiving boxes and 84 Christmas boxes were packed to help local families celebrate the holidays.
"This year, even more boxes are expected to be packed," he said. "The pantry is supplied solely through community support with contributions such as this."
Steyer said the pantry receives no government aid.
"Ruth said that any contributions are greatly appreciated and needed," he said. "We are very lucky to be a part of such a giving community."
Krumm said although all donations are appreciated, the pantry especially could use Thanksgiving-related items, such as canned sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, canned vegetables and canned meat.
"We could use all of that," she said, adding that the pantry's shelves were empty last week and food items needed to be purchased to help local families.
Krumm said some of the families in need have had up to 14 members. She said in addition to the schools, local businesses and churches have donated generously to the pantry.
"Every bit is appreciated more than they will ever know," Krumm said. "The community has been terrific. Without their support, we couldn't do it."
The pantry is within the Johnstown Independent Baptist Church, and its hours are 9:30 to 11 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Steyer said families in need should call 740-924-2835 prior to visiting so packages could be prepared.