October’s Helping Hand nomination goes to Ken Blanchard, an Oro Valley resident and employee of Edward Jones, whose initiation of the Southern Arizona’s annual Bag-a-Thon food drive is receiving increased recognition and effectiveness.
Blanchard’s story begins six years ago when he made a trip to a local food bank with about 10 cans of food to donate. While there, he experienced a moment that he’ll never forget.
“When I went to drop off the food, a gentleman came in to get a box of food for his family,” said Blanchard. “He was very gracious. He then came back in within two minutes and gave the box back with a couple items still in it – some pasta and some rice.”
Struck by what he thought an unusual gesture, Blanchard, who was not involved in the conversation, began paying closer attention.
“Then the man said, ‘My family and I live in our car, and we can’t cook these, so we want to give it to someone who can better use it,’” recalled Blanchard. “There are moments that really burn into a person’s brain, and that was one for me.”
The incident was one that motivated Blanchard to make a bigger difference than originally intended, and he quickly got started by forming the Bag-a-Thon food drive just a few months later.
“I figured having worked at Edward Jones, I knew enough people, and I thought I could reach out,” said Blanchard.
In the program’s first year, Blanchard set a goal of raising 1,000 pounds of food, a goal that he and community members doubled.
As the years progressed, the amount of food donated to Bag-a-Thon was increasing exponentially due to community generosity and one key strategy on Blanchard’s part.
“You don’t ask a few people to do a lot, you ask a lot of people to do a little,” he said. “If you do that, the goals are very achievable.”
As the program has matured, it has seen a number of community groups become involved, to include schools such as Ironwood Ridge, Canyon Del Oro, Copper Creek, and Oro Valley Basis, among others. In total, 20 schools participate in the Bag-a-Thon.
Local businesses, including 21 branches of Edward Jones’ offices, as well as Eegee’s, have also contributed to the cause.
“Eegee’s has told us that for every school that participates, they will give a free Eegee’s party to the classroom in each grade with the highest amount of food raised,” said Blanchard.
Blanchard also recognized the involvement of the American Heritage Girls, Southern Arizona Girl Scouts, and Cub Scouts, who went door-to-door collecting food. Trader Joes donated all of the 8,000 paper bags used in the food roundup. The three groups managed to acquire 5,000 pounds of food last year, and are again collecting this year.
So, how did this once small project turn into one involving so many different entities?
“It’s just about asking,” said Blanchard. “I really believe in my heart that people are giving. They want to help, and sometimes you just have to facilitate things to make it easier.”
Last year, the Bag-a-Thon program managed to bring in 42,000 pounds of food on a goal of 30,000 pounds. The food was donated to the Interfaith Community Services Food Bank.
This year’s drive runs through Nov. 3, and Blanchard is setting his sights higher than ever with a goal of 50,000 pounds of food to be collected for Interfaith.
“In passing, someone said that was an unattainable goal,” said Blanchard. “I said, ‘Watch closely.’ This is a community-wide project. Sure, Edward Jones’ name is attached, but I couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for the schools, the Town of Oro Valley, all the businesses involved, and the clients who donate.”
Blanchard is looking to collect an additional 10,000 total pounds of food for the community food banks in Marana, Sierra Vista, and Benson.
“When you realize the number of families in Tucson, Oro Valley, Arizona, and the United States that start the day with no food… I mean, how do kids go to school and not have breakfast? That is in my mind completely unacceptable. People ask me when I will stop doing this, and I tell them I’ll stop when nobody is in line.”
Blanchard was nominated by Oro Valley councilwoman Mary Snider.
“Ken’s passion for this project is what makes it more successful each year,” said Snider. “At a time when the demand for food at local food banks has never been higher, Ken works within our community to fulfill this need. He is well deserving of any type of recognition for his selfless efforts at making certain that no child in our community goes to school without having had food.”
To donate food, visit any Edward Jones office.