Rick Gaupo (far left) of Marion-Polk Food Share accepts a check for $21,837 on Feb. 19 from Jorie Skipper, Caleb Skipper, Molly Eisele and Gavin Eisele. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Rick Gaupo (far left) of Marion-Polk Food Share accepts a check for $21,837 on Feb. 19 from Jorie Skipper, Caleb Skipper, Molly Eisele and Gavin Eisele. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

The check was so big, Rick Gaupo needed help holding it.

Fortunately for the president and CEO of Marion-Polk Food Share, he had several hands.

Gaupo was at the Feb. 19 Greater Gubser Neighborhood Association meeting to accept a check for money raised during December’s Keizer Miracle of Christmas fundraiser.

“We’re here to present a very large check of $21,837,” said Brigett Eisele, who chaired the annual three-week event which also collected 24,899 pounds of food from Dec. 5 to 26. “It was the largest monetary donation we’ve had, by $3,000. It was the second largest poundage donation. We missed that record by 300 pounds, so we were really close.”

Eisele herself didn’t hand the check over to Gaupo. She instead left that task to daughter Molly and son Gavin, who were ably assisted by friends Caleb and Jorie Skipper. She also had each of the children share what their favorite part of the food drive was.

“People coming in, donating all the money and food,” Gavin said.

Molly showed she got swept into the holiday spirit.

“Mine is to dress up in my elf costume and go on the buses with Santa,” Molly said.

The Skipper siblings also shared their favorite parts.

“My favorite part is giving candy canes to kids and seeing how joyful they are,” Jorie said.

Caleb seemed to enjoy many aspects.

“My favorite part is seeing how much money (people) donate and doing it with my family, friends and neighbors,” he said.

Brigett Eisele was impressed with this year’s participation level.

“Overall, we had so much more participation from neighbors,” Eisele said. “People who had only put up a strand or two (of lights) before, we noticed had more in the yard. We had more people coming through the neighborhood. We actually had to turn volunteers away this year. We’re usually scrambling to fill a few spots. It’s just bringing the community together. From having people donate wood for the bonfire to people dropping off banana crates for hauling food, having people just wanting to help out all the time is fantastic.”

Gaupo was impressed by the amount on the check, as well as the report of what Gubser neighbors did.

“To the kids, parents and the community, this is amazing,” Gaupo said, noting how the drive ends up benefitting organizations like Keizer Community Food Bank. “We only do it through community support.

“Here’s something I think you guys did right: I am so impressed with how you can build community and how building the community can feed the hungry,” he added. “For the most part, food banks have said let’s feed the hungry and hope the community comes. You guys are doing exactly the opposite and I’m so intrigued by it, which is let’s build the community and, because we have a healthy community, of course we’re going to feed the hungry in our community.”

Gaupo feels the way the event is sold is a big part of its success.

“If you said let’s have a food drive for the hungry, you would never raise $21,000,” he said. “If you said let’s create a community and do something the community can get excited and impassioned about and participate in, you’re at the point where you are turning away volunteers. Because you created a community, you’re feeding the poor. You’re feeding the hungry in our community and I love that. Thank you so much.”

Gaupo said the average meal size is 1.2 pounds, meaning the pounds raised by the food drive equaled about 20,000 meals. With around $1.50 producing that size of meal, Gaupo said cash donations roughly equaled another 20,000 meals, meaning 40,000 meals total.

The money raised will pay for programs such as Fresh Alliance, a program in which a driver goes to a store and gets food that would otherwise be thrown out. The money is also used to acquire extra produce from farms. As one example, Gaupo said the food share picked approximately 20,000 pounds of broccoli from the Zielinski farm.

In short, Gaupo said money raised is multiplied by being used to acquire additional goods.

“There are all those ways we can leverage the money, more so than if we went out and bought the food,” he said.