It wouldn’t be out of line to say that the fate of the Bridgeport Food Pantry rests on the back of a plastic duck — or a whole creek full of them.
The pantry will hold its annual “Don’t Duck Hunger” duck race fundraiser at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 in the parking lot of St. Francis Parish in Bridgeport. The race typically raises approximately $25,000 for the pantry.
“I think everyone should really support their local food pantries, because they’re really in need,” said Patti Hedrick, coordinator of the Bridgeport Food Pantry. “I’ve been with this one for 15 years. We started bagging up 30 boxes of food. Now I have two books full of clients, and I bet you I have 300 pages full of names. They don’t all come every month, but they’re there. Food prices are going up, too, so it costs us more money, and the bills are astronomical.”
The food pantry, which is affiliated with the Food Bank of Central New York, serves between 150 and 165 families a month in the towns of Cicero, Manlius and Sullivan. That number spikes to near 300 around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since July of 2011, the pantry has provided 72,230 meals, an increase of 24 percent since 2009.
The pantry has an Election Day spaghetti dinner fundraiser as well as a corned beef and cabbage dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, but they needed a large fundraiser to fill their coffers. That’s when Hedrick came up with the idea to race plastic ducks in Chittenango Creek, located right behind the church. People “adopt” a duck, then set it loose in the creek. The owner of the duck that crosses the finish line first wins a prize, and all proceeds go to the pantry. And the pantry uses that money to buy its food from the Food Bank of Central New York.
“People don’t understand, we buy our food. They think it’s given to us,” Hedrick said. “I don’t think they understand we have to buy it from the Food Bank. And that doesn’t count the turkeys at Christmas and Thanksgiving and the rest of the special things we try to do.”
Running a food pantry is an expensive proposition, Hedrick said, especially when the number of families in need keeps increasing.
“Last year, the bills were around $70,000. I don’t know what they’ll be this year, but I’m afraid they’ll be near that bad,” she said. “We’re looking to make $25,000 this year. The secretary of the church told me we have $5,000 in our account, so I’m really hoping for a success.”
And it’s not like Hedrick takes a salary; the Bridgeport Food Pantry is all volunteer. All the money goes to feed struggling families.
“There’s just such a desperate need right now,” Hedrick said. “Every month, I get 10 new families. People work, but they can’t afford to eat.”
The duck race helps the pantry pay for that food; it’s the organization’s largest fundraiser. Hedrick came up with the idea for a duck race in 2009 after hearing about a similar event in Baldwinsville. She approached the community leaders and, with their support, agreed to take on the bulk of the responsibility for fundraising herself.
“I call myself the Bridgeport Beggar,” she said. “I just pound the pavement every year and go out there and ask for donations, and people are always more than willing to give them.”
In fact, the fundraiser has been so successful that the Food Bank of Central New York has asked Hedrick for advice; she spoke at their conference two years ago to explain the effort she and her fellow volunteers put on every year.
The games preceding the duck race begin at 2 p.m. in the parking lot behind St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bridgeport. The pizza contest, a big hit last year, will also return, featuring large slices for a dollar. The race itself kicks off at 3 p.m. in Chittenango Creek. It costs $5 to “adopt” a plastic duck. That $5 will feed a family of four for a day. Twenty dollars — which buys a “six quack” (adopt four ducks, get two free) — will feed that same family for five days. And $100, which buys a “box of quackers,” or 35 ducks, will feed that same family for a month.
Why would you buy 35 ducks? Because the more ducks you have in the water, the better chance you have of your duck winning the race. If your duck is the first to cross the finish line, you win the grand prize of $1,000. Second prize is $500, third is $250, fourth is $250 and many more are on the line.
For more information or to adopt a duck — or 35 — call Hedrick at 699-7976.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.