Stafford: Club raises $129,000 for foodbank; plans announced for a sequel

Dave Lannon uses a fork lift to move a pallet of canned vegetables in the warehouse at the Second Harvest Food Bank Wednesday, November 21, 2018. Springfield News-Sun columnist has raised more than $100,000 to help the food bank meet needs generated by the coronavirus pandemic. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Dave Lannon uses a fork lift to move a pallet of canned vegetables in the warehouse at the Second Harvest Food Bank Wednesday, November 21, 2018. Springfield News-Sun columnist has raised more than $100,000 to help the food bank meet needs generated by the coronavirus pandemic. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

I feel like the blind squirrel that found a nut.

Only I found 128,871 of them.

That’s how many dollars the good people of Clark, Champaign and Logan counties contributed to the Second Harvest Foodbank through the 1200 Club.

That’s right.

When a pandemic came to the area right after a food desert appeared on the South Side of Springfield, 164 of our neighbors and friends stepped forward to put their money where someone else’s mouth was.

How cool is that?

Cool enough to buy 695,000 meals, says Tyra Jackson, the foodbank’s executive director.

It made me dream that the spirits of Grandpa Jones, Junior Samples and the Hee Haw Honeys were standing in a cornfield somewhere in the three county-area saying: Saaaaa-LUTE!

I named the club after after the $1,200 the federal government sent our way as stimulus money.

I donated mine because I didn’t deserve the money. I wasn’t working full time, and at a time when my income was relatively fixed, everybody else’s seemed broken.

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The simple truth is that my neighbors and their kids needed food more than I needed the money.

And I felt, as some of my friends describe it, blessed.

Forming the club came from my sense that other equally blessed blind squirrels were out there looking for an excuse to help.

My dream – maybe hallucination – was that 99 other people would donate their stimulus checks and we could raise $120,000.

A good friend on the foodbank board essentially told me was I was nuts.

As it turned out, we both were right.

So, how right were you, Tom?

I was so right that even my wife said so. Well, eventually.

Which leaves us where, now, in the grand scheme of things?

At the perfect time to announce 1200 Club, The Sequel: The Squirrels get Squirrelier.

Why?

During the first six months of this year, the food bank distributed 87 percent more meals as it did all of last year – and reached more people doing it.

In the first six months of 2019, Second Harvest distributed 2,396,016 pounds of food. January through June of this year, 4,486,102 pounds of food went out the door – and mostly down the hatch.

And as the crisis stretches out, the food is going out faster. While the percentage of new clients jumped a hefty 120 percent January through June over last year, the increase sprung to 163 percent in April, May and June, as compared with last year.

“We’re actually trying to give people more because they’re needing more,” Jackson said. “And we’re serving more seniors and children.”

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Some of those seniors were already challenged and lost the jobs they needed to help ends meet.

And another foot has yet to fall.

Although some utilities “are still allowing people to hold off on paying their utility bills, those bills won’t be going away,” Jackson said, which means “all this is coming to a head.”

With federal support being trimmed, the stimulus and unemployment checks people do receive will go to paying those bills, Jackson said. “So, we’re going to have to sort of amp it up again” to compensate for money people had been using to buy food.

And this comes at a time when the food bank has established Monday through Friday deliveries to seniors and others without transportation. Half of those deliveries are in the area once served by the South Limestone Street Kroger.

Bottom line?

It’s time to bring out the club again.

If you’re up for reupping, the instructions are as simple as I am.

When your $1,200 check arrives – or even before that:

1.Go to thefhb.org.

2. Click on donate.

3. Figure out the plan that’s best for you.

4. In the spot that allows you to dedicate your donation, first-time donors should write “Totally nuts,” so we can track donations. Those who already are members of the 1200 Club should write “Totally nuts again,” because I plan to distribute certificates to recidivists.

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As before, a donation of any amount qualifies you for club membership.

And this time around, there’s a bonus for the two largest donations.

The top donor gets dinner with me.

The second place donor gets two dinners with me.

Someone I know who uses the word “incentivize” told me that anyone who had dinner with me once wouldn’t want to make that mistake again – a difference that might provide an incentive for higher bids for the first place prize.

And I thought to myself, “How cool is that?”