Scouting for Food is one of the most altruistic services performed by the Boy Scouts of America. It was started in 1988 to address one of the four pressing “National Unacceptable Situations” identified by the BSA – Hunger – and has been an extraordinary success. In many areas of the Country, including the Washington Metropolitan Area, Scouting for Food is by far the largest food collection drive of the year, and dwarfs all of the more highly publicized food drives by local TV and Radio stations or other service organizations (for example, an estimated 2.5 million pounds of food was collected in the Washington area in the 1997 Scouting for Food Drive. Not bad for a half-day long event!) Collected food is re-distributed locally via food banks and similar organizations; in our area, these include the Washington and Northern Virginia Area Food Banks.
Troop (and Cub Pack) 111 have participated in Scouting for Food every year since its inception. The Troop’s areas include the Woodmont, Dominion Heights, Waverly Hills and Livingston Heights, while the Cub Pack has concentrated more on the Bellvue Forest area. From rather humble beginnings (about 1,000 pounds collected in 1988), we have grown to about 3,500 pounds collected each year throughout the mid and late 1990’s. This success has been the combined result of the hard work and dedication of the Scouts and an organized, highly systematic approach by the Troop to maximize the returns for their invested efforts.
How it works: Troop 111’s method has three basic parts, bag distribution, reminder sign installation, and bag collection. Bag Distribution is usually done on the Saturday before the Bag Collection Saturday, while reminder sign installation is done on the intervening Wednesday or Thursday afternoon or evening.
For bag distribution, 2 to 3 Scouts are paired up with an escorting Adult and given a map, bags, flyers and a set of basic directions. To help avoid problems, Scouts are dressed in full Uniform. Each map will have a number of adjacent streets in one of our assigned areas highlighted. The number of bags and flyers given to the Scouts will be in slight excess to the number of houses located on those streets. The Scouts and escort walk up each street in turn, hanging bags with inserted flyers on the doorknobs of each house. The flyers contain detailed information on who we are and what we re asking for; this complements similar information on the bags. For Health and Safety reasons (and also as a simple courtesy to our neighbors who may still be sleeping or relaxing Saturday morning), we do not knock on doors; however, we do stop and explain what we re doing if the residents are outside and available, or see us coming and meet us at their doors. In general, bag distribution – from initial assembly to completion – takes less than 2 hours total.
Reminder sign installation is a vital key to our success. The one-week gap between bag distribution and collection is too long for most folks to remember what we re doing, even with the insert flyers and public service announcements in the newspapers and on TV and Radio. Therefore, we outline our assigned areas with large reminder signs on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon and evening. This also gives our Scouts with Saturday morning conflicts an opportunity to participate in Scouting for Food. The signs are fairly simple (e.g., “Scout Food/Sat. 9 am” in large block letters on the white backs of large campaign posters), but serve well to jog everyone s memory. They are placed at or near the entrance of each street in such a manner that folks returning home from work Thursday and Friday night will see them. Past experience has shown that neighborhoods with reminder signs will return at least twice as much food as those without signs; thus, this saves the Scouts from having to knock on people s doors on Bag Collection Saturday (which, as previously noted, is not an acceptable alternative.) All signs are removed during Bag Collection Saturday and (if not ruined) are saved for the following year. Sign installation takes 2 – 3 hours, start to finish. Scout Uniforms are not required for this aspect of Scouting for Food.
For bag collection, 2 to 3 Scouts are again paired up with an escorting Adult (who has a large vehicle), and given 2 maps and a set of basic directions. Again, to help avoid problems, Scouts are dressed in full Uniform. The maps are the same as those used for bag distribution, but each set of Scouts are given two adjacent map areas to collect bags from; this is because bag collection tends to proceed far more quickly than bag distribution. The assigned streets are again highlighted, and the Scouts walk up each street in turn and collect visible bags only. Again, we do not knock on anyone s door. Reminder signs are also collected and stored. The escorting driver shadows the Scouts with his/her vehicle, to collect and transport the bags and signs. As they come to the vehicle with each bag, the Scouts separate the non-canned goods from the bags and place them in separate boxes – this avoids having them crushed under tens of thousands of cans inside the collection trucks. They also count the number of cans and the number of non-canned items, and relay those numbers to the driver (who records them “on the fly.” ) These numbers will be requested at the collection point, and it is far easier to do the counting during the collection versus at the dropoff. When the collection is complete, or the vehicle is too full to continue, the Scouts join the driver for the run to the dropoff center (traditionally Westover Baptist Church), and assist with transferring items from the vehicle to the trucks. The Troop 111 Scouting for Food Coordinator will also be present, to assist and direct as needed, collect the reminder signs and maps, and also to write down collection numbers for cans versus non-cans. If the team still has additional streets to complete after their first dropoff, they continue until everything has been collected. Bag Collection generally takes from 1 to 2 hours, start to finish.
Bag Collection also has a second component, that being the “Tail-End Charlie” crews (usually two teams.) These crews divide the entire area assigned to the Troop in half, and do a quick re-run over all streets, starting sometime between 11 am and 12 noon. Scouts should be in full Uniform. In general, the Scouts can stay in the vehicle and scan the houses (one Scout to each side) as the driver slowly proceeds up each street; this is far faster than having to walk. Large vans with high ground clearance are preferable for this duty, as they enable the Scouts to scan from a higher vantage point versus cars or mini-vans. The driver just stops when a bag is spotted, about once every 20 – 30 houses. This recovers all those bags that were put out too late for the initial collection. Based on past experience, each team will recover approximately 25 additional bags and several missed Scouting for Food signs. In addition to ensuring maximum return, this is also a final opportunity for a last few Scouts who have early Saturday morning conflicts to participate in the project. The dropoff center remains open `til 3:00 pm, so there is no particular time pressure. Bags, signs and maps are dropped off in the usual manner. Tail-End Charlie duty generally takes about 2 hours start to finish.
Additional Questions? Talk to the Troop Scouting for Food Coordinator.