COVID-19’s ravaging of employment and financial stability left millions struggling to make ends meet; Scout families were no exception. The grave extent of this hardship was understood when Scout families from Troop 167 were struggling merely to put food on the table. Operating in the early stages of quarantine and following every measure of safety, a small group of troop members rallied together to help get food to these families. The Troop members began to deliver packages of goods: staples like rice, flour, beans, fruits and vegetables, etc. on a weekly basis. This proved to be only the beginning of a much greater effort; a food drive for the Arlington community.
Troop 167 was chartered by Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church nearly 70 years ago, and has recently began to focus on the patrol method and being Scout led. The Troop has done significant outreach to recruit scouts from underserved parts of our community. Dedication to service implements itself is one of the most fundamental values of Scouting. Scouts are taught in the oath “to help other people at all times,” and in our slogan to “do a good turn daily.” This troop strives to uphold these teachings together by doing service activities as troops: participating in Eagle Projects, and dedicating themselves to proactive protection of the environment. The characteristics of kindness, helpfulness, and thrift emphasized by Scouting drives Scouts and Scouters to make positive impacts on their communities as individuals when leading their daily lives. Given the monumental impact Covid-19 has had on communities around the world, the service of Scouting faces unprecedented demand.
As the delivery and supply of food to Scout families in need became more frequent, the spread of need beyond those whom we were already helping became alarmingly evident. Neighbors and relatives of our Scout families (majorly in Arlington) began inquiring if they could receive aid, as they too faced dangerous problems with obtaining meals.
The mission of Troop 167’s service project was to help as many people as possible receive a healthy supply of meals. This created two main focuses when determining the logistics of the project: spending the least amount of money to get the most amount of food, and providing a plentiful, balanced, and healthy diet. The value we placed on the latter focus was what led to the purchasing of food mentioned in the first focus: In order to ensure that we provided consistently stocked and balanced food packages, we had to be able to control where our food came from. Because of this, the Troop chose to purchase our food in bulk and rely on monetary donations, rather than follow the pattern of a regular food drive that collects food donations.
Together they created a list of groceries that were comprehensive of a balanced diet, and one that aimed to provide nutrition for a family for one week’s time. This list included the following: Dry Goods (rice, beans, flour, sugar, oats, pasta, pasta sauce, tortillas, cookies/treat, bouillon, coffee, oil/margarine). Fresh Produce (tomatoes, onions, potatoes, lettuce/cabbage, carrots, broccoli, oranges). And Dairy/Meat (chicken franks, eggs, milk).
By comparing prices and buying in bulk, they were able to provide all of the listed items in the target quantity (approximately enough to feed a family for one week) for about $25-$27 a food package.
Over the course of the work week, they distributed in bulk non-perishable dry goods to Scout families to be divided into individual family portions (2-6 cups, depending on the item). As 50lb bags of beans, rice, flour, etc. finished being prepared in this way, the families delivered them to our Scoutmaster’s house- the HQ of our project. Over the course of the week these different products accumulated, and by the time the weekend rolled around (we determined which day based on the weather), all that was left to bring into the fold were the perishable goods. This included some dry goods like tortillas and bouillon (they either weren’t as shelf-stable, or didn’t need preparation), in addition to all of the produce, meat, eggs, and dairy. While Scouts assembled by patrol at the HQ early in the morning and began to put together the pre-portioned dry goods in family boxes, a Scout family went to the wholesale stores and purchased the perishables. They brought the perishables in the troop trailer to the HQ right as the dry goods finished being divided. They then took their turn being divvied into the family boxes, leaving us with complete food packages in less than two hours.
Headed by a Scout parent familiar with the aided community, designated Scout parents and older Scouts performed the food delivery. Strictly following safety protocols, this group took the complete food packages and drove them to the recipients in private cars, our troop van, and our troop trailer. The families received the food packages at their homes. For some this was an important detail: without private transportation and public transportation being unsafe, it was hard for some to access other food sources.
The Troop’s ability to proceed with such a massive project (they assembled ~150 packages each week) rode not only on the physical labor of our troop. Another factor driving our ability to provide food was financial backing. Given that they purchased the food instead of collecting it through donations, receiving capital was key to their success. To ensure this inflow of money, Scouts worked behind the scenes to spread awareness of our project: soliciting donations over email, phone, and text. Using neighborhood listservs to spread word of our fundraiser proved lucrative, and we were able to sustain our high cost project for many weeks. Our chartering organization also provided significant financial support.
As money began to run thin and the local economy began re-opening, the Troop project saw the right opportunity to phase out at the end of June. The Scout leaders stated, “We are immensely proud of what we were able to accomplish: the total delivery of over 1500 food packages! We are even more glad to have helped our friends, family, and local community in their hour of need- upholding the values of Scouting and making good of our promised word. We are now working with our chartering organization Mt. Olivet UMC to leverage our service and experience into a continuing community outreach.”
What started as a small effort to help families in the troop quickly began to grow into a different and much larger operation: not only did costs rise, but the ability of the smaller group to handle the preparation, assembly, and delivery of the food packages waned. In coordination with greater gathering occupancy allowances designated by the state, as well as greater ability to follow safety protocol, more and more of the troop was able to be brought into what soon became a troop-wide service project. By the end of the multi-month stint, the had delivered food to over 500 families, some on more than one occasion. We had been able to fulfill our commitment to service in a way that brought together our patrols, our troop, our troop families, and our external community (All while functioning independently as a Scout troop)! Despite the restrictive situation of quarantine, we were still able to make a difference in the lives of people who needed our help; and found a now-rare sense of camaraderie and fellowship. As we move beyond this activity as a troop (the progression of reopening has dampened the need to which we were responding, allowing us to dial back our aid), we hope that our humble actions can serve as an example of the adaptability of Scouting to fit challenging times, and as an inspiration for other troops to look for need in their communities.