GREENFIELD — Carl Denny didn’t think he was going to host the 40,000 Pounds of Giving event this year.
The organizer of the annual charity food drive and former executive director of the Hancock Hope House recently took a new job, shifting his attention elsewhere, but when community members started asking Denny whether his departure from the local nonprofit homeless shelter would signal the end of a holiday tradition benefiting residents in need, he couldn’t turn down the pleas for help.
And so, Denny agreed to spearhead the 11th annual event, which this year collected more than 72,000 pounds of nonperishable goods for residents in need.
And he had plenty of help. More than 100 volunteers bundled up in their warmest winter gear Saturday to join Denny outside the Greenfield Kroger, 1571 N. State St.; some waved signs beckoning drivers to stop by the supermarket and buy a bag of groceries to donate, while others weighed and loaded food onto several trucks and semitrailers bound for 12 area food pantries.
Volunteers of all ages hailed from the New Palestine American Legion post, the Greenfield-Central High School football team, New Palestine Girl Scout troop 653 and several other organizations to aid the effort.
“At the end of the day, it’s really about the community coming together and understanding a need,” Denny said. “People are donating despite not knowing exactly who it will go to, since the food goes so many places. That’s why our motto is ‘Feed a stranger, feed your soul.’”
The name, 40,000 Pounds of Giving, comes from the legal weight limit of a 53-foot semitrailer, said Denny. Several trucking companies have made a tradition out of donating thousands of pounds of food toward the total. This year, Lazer Spot, a trucking company with locations around the country, including one in Plainfield where Denny now works, donated 67,000 pounds of nonperishable food items, including 45,000 pounds of Gatorade products.
Jill Ebbert, executive director of the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, which receives a portion of the donations from the event, joined the volunteers helping weigh and stack items on the trucks on Saturday.
She was excited about the donation of the sports drinks, noting they’re particularly expensive for the soup kitchen to buy.
Volunteers and organizers received help from Kroger employees, including store manager Paul Roberts and employee Dana Hodgin, who lent carts and forklifts for the two-hour food drive. Kroger donated 700 pounds of Oreo cookies and 700 pounds of bottled water as well, Roberts said.
Saturday’s drive crossed a milestone for the 40,000 Pounds of Giving food drive, Denny said — the effort has now collected 500,000 pounds of food for central Indiana food pantries and soup kitchens since its inception 11 years ago. Denny hopes to hit 1 million pounds by the year 2020, he said.
He then hopes to expand the event — even going global, Denny said. More than a decade of running the food drive has proven it’s a successful model that can work in lots of locations, he said.
Jason Bush, a friend of Denny’s, has volunteered every year. The Greenfield resident said the growth of the food drive has been inspiring to watch, especially given its grassroots origins.
“There’s no budget, no staff, and everything is done by pure volunteer effort,” Bush said. “It’s amazing what one person with some determination and ingenuity can do.”