Alex and Riley’s food drive soars to 10th year of giving
By Mark Squibb \ May 5, 2023
Louise and Bernie Mercer are marking a milestone as they prepare to host the annual Spirit of Alex and Riley food drive and fundraiser.
“This year is our tenth anniversary, and I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already,” said Louise. “And over those 10 years, I can’t imagine how many hundreds of thousands of dollars we’ve collected in food for the foodbank right here in CBS and Paradise.”
The food drive is held at the Salvation Army Church in CBS on May 9 annually to honour the memory of the Mercers’ children, Alex and Riley Mercer, who were both lost after valiant battles against cancer. Both Alex and Riley, though separated in age by several years, were born on May 9.
Louise said that over the last decade, the need for both monetary and food donations has grown year-over-year.
“The need gets greater every year,” said Mercer. “And we say that every year, but it’s the truth. We started off in the beginning servicing 160 families and this March they put out 320 hampers, just in March month alone.”
Food banks have seen an intake in users the last couple of years due to the double-whammy of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing inflation.
The rising cost of goods and services on the heels of a global pandemic means that not only do more people need help, but that there are fewer folks who can help, and those who still can, find themselves having to cut back on their donations.
“Before COVID, people might donate a $50 bag of groceries,” said Mercer. “After COVID, it went down to a $30 bag. And now, with the price of groceries, it’s very little. Personal donations are next to nothing, because people can’t afford to put food on their own table, let alone donate to the foodbank. They’ve seen a real big decrease in personal donations.”
The increase in food prices also means the food bank is able to buy less — Mercer said that $14,000 worth of canned foods will only last three to four weeks.
Staples such as milk, sugar, tea, coffee, and canned foods are in high demand, and monetary donations are also accepted. Those unable to donate in person can send an e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mercers organized the first S.O.A.R. food drive not knowing how large an event it would grow to become.
“We did this the first year, and we said that we would give it a try and see if it caught on,” said Mercer. “The first year was amazing. It was so good, that it was impossible not to do it again. And that’s the way we feel every year. We feel that the food bank depends on us. This is one of their biggest fundraisers and they really need our support.”
Mercer added there are no plans of slowing down in the future.
“We are so honoured that people still come out to help us support the legacy of Alex and Riley,” said Mercer. “It’s just amazing. And for Alex and Riley, we will continue to keep doing this. As long as people come out to support us, we’ll be here forever.”
The event is held each year with the help of dedicated community volunteers. Several volunteers are needed the night of the event to help deliver the donations to the food bank, while members of both the CBS and Paradise fire departments collect donations from local schools. Mercer said the schools are perhaps the event’s biggest supports, and the drive wouldn’t be the success it is without their participation.
The Mercers invite all members of the community to stop by the Salvation Army church in Long Pond on May 9 to drop off a donation, have a chat, and enjoy a piece of cake.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Mercer. “We get to celebrate Alex and Riley’s birthday with the whole community and the whole community gets to celebrate Alex and Riley.”