NEGAUNEE TOWNSHIP - In 1982, the area was experiencing some tough times with layoffs at the mines and families struggling to put food on the table. Those hard times were the inspiration for the TV6 Canathon.
"That first year we collected 700 pounds of food," said Scott Zerbel, Canathon director. "It kind of just grew from there."
Held every year since then, the Canathon has grown to include 10 counties across the Upper Peninsula.
The Marquette Blues Baseball team joins TV6 anchor Greg Trick, left, at the station Thursday night. Through the cold and falling snow, volunteers weighed and loaded thousands of pounds of food at the TV6 station in Negaunee Township for the finale of the annual TV6 Canathon. Across the U.P., nearly 113,000 pounds of food were collected during the month-long effort.
Around 50 volunteers from local churches, school groups and Boy Scout troops formed a chain gang at the Ishpeming Salvation Army to unload two large truckfuls of donated food. (Journal photos by Johanna Boyle)
In 2008, the drive collected 111,000 pounds of food. Over the span of the program, more than 2.4 million pounds of food have been collected and given to local families and individuals in need.
That makes a big difference for local food pantries like St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army, which often depend on the large donation of food that TV6 coordinates to feed people throughout the year.
"We had over 100 families that we had for the past month," said Amanda Pope, manager of the St. Vincent's store in Ishpeming. "Every month it seems to be more and more.
"This whole Canathon is very important to our pantries. This is something we get the most donations from."
The Salvation Army in Ishpeming has also reported a growing need for assistance, with nearly 12 families per day accessing the food pantry, said Capt. Chris Marques.
"A lot of people have not accessed services before," Marques said. "We've seen about a 30 percent increase."
St. Vincent's in Ishpeming has food pickups three times a week for clients, providing them with a variety of canned goods, cereal, bread and on occasion fresh food items, depending on what the family or individual needs, Pope said.
The large drop off from TV6 used to be enough to last all year until the next Canathon, but Pope said with the increased need, shelves are emptying more quickly this year.
"It's the economy and people are having to take care of their bills," she said.
At the Salvation Army, around 50 volunteers from local schools and churches formed a line to unload the two truckloads of food for the pantry.
The delivery usually lasts until around March, but with the increased need, may get used up faster.
TV6 kicked off the Canathon on Nov. 9 this year, giving them a month to pull in as much food as possible.
Other organizations, including more than 85 schools this year, help to collect donations, which were brought to TV6 Thursday night for a final live broadcast.
"Something that large is just not something we can do by ourselves here," Zerbel said of the extra help that is needed to pull the donations together.
The pantries, which have to purchase food if not enough is donated, appreciate the extra help.
"It's a great idea to do this. Some people are having a hard time. I can't believe how many people are giving," Pope said.
Whether it is those receiving assistance or those giving it, the Canathon makes an impact.
"It's incredible the number of people it touches," Zerbel said.
Zerbel said he tries to divide the donations evenly between the various food pantries, based on the number of people who are served there.
"It's not a perfect science. We try to divide things as evenly as possible," he said.
Although each year the pantries can depend on getting a big boost during the holidays, people need to eat all year round, and it's important to keep giving when you can.
"We do this for the window of a month, but we encourage people to recognize that the need is year round," Zerbel said.