The spirit of giving and a sense of community was in strong evidence last week as residents and businesses throughout Conception Bay South and Paradise ponied up to help the local food bank.
It was all thanks to the efforts of Bernie and Louise Mercer, who use the occasion of their late children’s birthday, May 9, to honour their spirits by organizing a food drive. And though it’s been three years for the S.O.A.R. (Spirit of Alex and Riley) food blitz, the event is showing no signs of flagging. Just the opposite. It is showing the same determination and positivity exhibited by the event’s namesakes who happened to share the same birth date, though years apart, and who were both lost to brain cancer, Alex when she was still in Elementary school and Alex as a teenager.
“After the first year we lost Riley I knew we wanted to do something for his birthday,” said his mom, Louise. “I wanted it to be a community event, so I said, ‘I wonder if a food drive would work.’”
The food drive, headquartered every year at the Salvation Army church in Long Pond, has been embraced by residents as a way to honour the Mercer family’s courage and grace and give back to the community by supporting the efforts of the food bank, which has a growing list of people dependent upon it.
“When we lost Riley we really couldn’t think fast enough, but I wanted (the birthday celebration to be) something that the community could be part of. Never did I imagine that it would be anything like the toy drive,” added Mercer, referring to the successful Christmas campaign the family spearheads every year as well.
The Mercers, their family members and friends, CBS Salvation Army congregation members and a bevy of volunteers were all smiles as the food donations poured in last Wednesday making it the most successful food drive to date. A dollar figure on the value of the food gathered would be impossible to estimate with so many donations made, Mercer said.
The annual food drive comes at a crucial time for families and individuals dependent on the food bank. Mercer and Salvation Army Major Lorne Pritchett explained that while the Christmas donation season normally carries the Conception Bay South-Paradise Community Food Bank into the spring months, product at the food bank is beginning to run low, and the food centre is beginning to buy items with cash. The hope is that the annual food drive will help carry the food bank through the lean months.
“This is (the food bank’s) last food drive until Thanksgiving,” said Mercer. “Hopefully this will carry them through the summer months.”
All schools from Paradise and CBS held their own individual food drives as part of the larger S.O.A.R. Memorial Food Drive. Both the Conception Bay South and Paradise Fire Department’s organized the pick-up efforts from the local schools. TRA Atlantic, which supplies grocery items for Sobeys, also donated a significant amount of food in support of the drive. An overwhelming number of individual donations were made as well with Mercer saying there was no way to estimate the total number of contributions. Mercer said she was overwhelmed by the amount of support shown to her family and is happy to be able to give back in memory of Alex and Riley.
“The need is so great, it’s such a good cause that people have no problem to come out and support it,” said Mercer. “When Riley was sick, the community came out for us in droves and really supported us in every way. We just wanted to give back.”
Mercer said that as long as there is a need in the community, the food blitz and toy drive events will continue as their way of thanking a community that has always reached out to help them in their time of need.
“I just wanted to give something back just to say thanks,” said Mercer. “And I just can’t say thanks enough, so this will continue forever.”