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Annual TV6 canathon goes virtual amid pandemic

NEGAUNEE — The annual WLUC-TV6 canathon has been going strong for 38 years, and the COVID-19 pandemic will transform the 39th annual event into a virtual format.

However, the pandemic will transform the event into a virtual format this year. The station cites uncertainties with people gathering at collection sites and safe distribution to local food pantries.

“It was a hard decision to convert it into a virtual event,” canathon director Scott Zerbel said. “We did an impromptu one in the spring and had a measure of success in doing that. Everybody involved can feel a good measure of safety when participating this year.

“Donating the food and the number of people that would touch the food while going through the chain that gets it to the food pantry, there’s too much risk involved with that.”

Instead of collecting non-perishable food items this year, TV6 will accept online monetary donations which will be distributed to local food pantries.

Zerbel said financial donations will benefit the food pantries because they provide more flexibility.

“This direction allows us to solicit monetary donations from donors and get those directly to local food pantries,” he said. “They’re able to purchase what they need, when they need it. It sort of gives them increased buying power and more bang for the buck. If you and I purchased food and spent $10, they could potentially get more value for those items if they do it themselves.”

Monetary donations also allow each food pantry to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables and meats that can be distributed to clients in need.

Over the years, the TV6 Canathon has asked solely for nonperishable and prepackaged food items, in part due to the fact that food pantries don’t often have the storage space for fresh food items.

Last year’s canathon saw a record-breaking 135,000 pounds of food collected across the Upper Peninsula.

Since its first run in 1982, the event has collected over 4 million pounds of food.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, TV6 hosted a similar event in the spring to help those in need, raising over $80,000 in donations, Zerbel said.

“We had an impromptu canathon in the spring when all the layoffs were taking place and businesses were shut down in March and April,” he said. “The food pantries expressed the need for donations, so we put together a virtual canathon and that ran for about 12 weeks. We raised over $85,000 and we’re hoping to meet or exceed that total. We’re going to put it out there and hope people will respond.”

Organizers are launching a canathon website at www.tv6canathon.com.

The website will go live on Monday and people will have the option to donate to a local food pantry of their choice through Dec. 11.

“People can donate to their local food pantry, so say I lived in Escanaba and wanted to donate, I can do so through the website,” Zerbel said. “It’s easy and efficient. It’s pretty user friendly and people can make a donation by check, money order, credit card or Paypal account.”

Transforming it into a virtual event has posed some logistical challenges, Zerbel said, but he hopes the event will be as successful as it’s been over the past 38 years.

“We have groups who still plan on collecting, but they’ll be taking monetary donations,” he said. “I’m hoping for the best. It’s quite a feat to change a 38-plus-year tradition that people are kind of used to. I’ve been the director of the canathon since 1990 and I’ve built up a U.P.-wide network. Doing things differently is always a risk, but I’m hoping people will continue to make a donation.”

For more information on this year’s TV6 Canathon and ways to donate, visit www.tv6canathon.com.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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