Every year in early September, Chittenango Creek in Bridgeport gets clogged with brightly colored ducks.
It’s not some new kind of invasive species; this particular invasion is temporary. These ducks, made of colored plastic, are part of the Bridgeport Food Pantry’s annual “Don’t Duck Hunger” duck race, which raises money to support the pantry’s mission. The event typically raises about $25,000.
“There’s just such a desperate need right now,” said Patti Hedrick, food pantry coordinator. “Every month, I get 10 new families. People work, but they can’t afford to eat.”
The pantry, which serves the towns of Sullivan, Cicero and Manlius, 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 pantry on Route 298. People “adopt” a duck for $5, then volunteers set the lot of them 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.
“As the local food pantry, we have to pay for 90 percent of the food we give out,” Hedrick said. “Yes, people or businesses donate canned foods, garden surplus or breads, but this only adds up to 10 percent of the food, and the rest of the food has to be purchased from the CNY Food Bank or specials from local markets.”
And the pantry needs more food every year. From July of 2011 to July of 2012, the pantry served 72,230 meals. In the same period from 2013 to 2014, it served more than 100,000.
“The food pantry is helping more working people, but they are living on the edge of poverty because of low incomes,” said volunteer Carol Benedict. “We’re also seeing larger families with children and often grandparents. These low-income families really need our help as prices at stores continue to rise and the children continue to grow.”
An average of 165 families a month receive assistance from the food pantry, which is a mission of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bridgeport. And thanks to events like the duck race, Hedrick and her staff are able to meet the need.
“This last year we were able to give out about 10 percent more food with the encouragement and some additional food from the CNY Food Bank,” Benedict said. “We are able to provide food for nutritious meals at about 80 cents per person.”
The race will take place in Chittenango Creek behind St. Francis Church, located on Route 298 near the Route 31 intersection in Bridgeport. The event also includes a “Pizza Taste-off,” in which local pizza vendors compete to see who has the best pizza ($1 to taste and vote). Local businesses have also donated more than $2,000 in prizes to be awarded to the holders of the winning ducks, including a $1,000 grand prize.
Tickets for ducks can be purchased until 2:45 p.m. The race itself starts at 3 p.m. Ducks will be pulled from the water and boxed up in order, then their owners will be identified. Winners are usually announced between 3:15 and 3:30 p.m. You need not be present to win.
For more information about the Bridgeport Food Pantry or the duck race, contact 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.