It’s not news that times are hard, especially in Bridgeport, which straddles the Madison-Onondaga county line.
Just ask Patti Hedrick; she sees it firsthand. Hedrick is the coordinator of the Bridgeport Food Pantry, which operates out of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
“I’m getting between eight and 10 new families every single month,” Hedrick said. “Some of them work, yes, but their jobs aren’t paying enough to support their families. It’s either pay the rent or the mortgage or eat. It’s very bad here in Bridgeport.”
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. In 2010, the pantry provided 67,000 meals, an increase of 14 percent over 2009.
The facility’s food budget is around $55,000 a year, and Hedrick was finding it hard to meet that goal with more and more families seeking aid, rising food prices and declining donations.
“I think everyone should really support their local food pantries, because they’re really in need,” she said. “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 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.
Hedrick came up with the idea for a duck race in 2009 after hearing about a similar event in a neighboring community.
“I heard about it from a lady in Baldwinsville,” she said. “I believe it’s the Rotary Club in Baldwinsville that does it. Right in back of the church is this creek. I thought it was interesting. They did it on Seneca River, and I thought if they could do that on the river, why couldn’t we do it on the creek?”
Hedrick and the rest of her committee called a meeting of community leaders and asked for their support. While skeptical, they agreed to promote the event. Hedrick herself took on the responsibility of raising the bulk of the money.
“Another lady and I from the church, we did so very well, just pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, asking people for donations for prizes,” she said. “Once we got our prize money, you kind of breathe once you get that prize money. After that it was restaurants donating meals and all kinds of things. And then last year we did it again.”
Those early skeptics weren’t so doubtful anymore, Hedrick said.
“People said I was crazy to start with, but now, they’re always asking me when this year’s event is. It’s created quite a bit of interest.”
In fact, the fundraiser has been so successful that the Food Bank of Central New York has asked Hedrick for advice.
“When the Food Bank had their conference this year, they asked me to speak on fundraising, and when I told them how much we raised last year, we raised $25,000 last year selling little plastic ducks – would you believe that? – they gasped,” Hedrick said. “They couldn’t believe we could raise that much money. We start in April or May, and I have a great committee and a lot of very generous people.”
The duck race will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday Sept. 10 in the parking lot of St. Francis Parish in Bridgeport. 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.