With record demand in a difficult economy, organizers of Pack the Paramount are retooling their plans, adding a co-sponsor and reaching out to the community like never before.
"The demand at local food shelves is downright scary," said Terry Jaye, program manager at Catamount Radio, one of the sponsors. "As a community, we have to come together and ensure that demand is met. We cannot let anyone go hungry."
This year's event has been streamlined to heighten the excitement of the event, with just two days rather than three. Omya, which is organizing some new wrinkles this year, has joined Central Vermont Public Service, Catamount Radio and the Paramount Theatre as a sponsor. They've set a goal of collecting 20,000 items.
Food collected will go to emergency food shelves at BROC, the Rutland Community Cupboard and the Salvation Army. "We urge the community to rise up and meet this challenge," the organizations said in a joint statement.
WJJR and WSYB will broadcast live throughout the event, which runs from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 27 and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 28.
Donors can bring non-perishable food items to the Paramount Theatre on Center Street in Rutland during those hours. The idea is to fill every seat with a box or bag of food, demonstrating the hundreds of families who need assistance in the Rutland area.
Omya's Christie Harris, who drives a Mini Cooper, is organizing a "Mini Food Drive" as part of the event. Harris and several Mini-driving friends will pick up donations within the city or town of Rutland and deliver them to the Paramount. "This has been a great event the past several years, but the need has never been greater," Harris said. "We wanted to add a fun new facet to the effort in hopes of collecting more food than ever." Anyone who needs a pickup can call Ann Warrell at 353-5659.
Pack the Paramount has collected tons of food since it began five years ago. "With unemployment high and many people under-employed, we need to collect as much as possible," CVPS spokesman Steve Costello said. "A lot of people are facing very difficult times, and those of us in a position to help have got to step forward and do it."
All types of non-perishable food are appreciated, but certain items are in great demand. Peanut butter, jelly, canned tuna, pasta, pasta sauce, hearty soups, macaroni and cheese, cereal, coffee and tea, instant potatoes, rice and bottled juice are most popular.
Other items, including baby food, toilet tissue, paper towels, hygiene products and large-size items for families, are not as frequently donated, but greatly needed. Cash donations, which will be used to purchase food for the participating food shelves, will also be accepted.