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Greater Pittsburgh Council of Boy Scouts set $4.8 million food-drive record

| Tuesday, June 9, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

There's room for more food on the shelves at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne.

But when Ivy Ero, the director of education services, walks the aisles, she's encouraged when she sees the pallets filled with the same white boxes and marked: "Scouting for Food."

The Greater Pittsburgh Council of Boy Scouts of America set a record by collecting $4.8 million in food donations during its annual drive, organization leaders announced Monday.

Summer is a busy time for the food bank because thousands of families rely on it when free and cut-priced school breakfasts and lunches disappear, Ero said. Despite a historic recession and growing need, the Scouts' contributions should help the food bank get through these months, she said.

"We are hard-pressed to keep up in the summer months with the needs of our children," Ero told a gathering of Scout leaders and corporate partners at Children's Hospital of UPMC in Lawrenceville. "All summer long the food bank can go, 'Phew, we have enough.' Our children will eat this summer."

Scout leaders repeatedly complimented donors for their generosity. Donations finished up 10 percent from last year, a big jump for a group that usually has annual increases of only a fraction of a percent, said Bruce McDowell, the council's director of special projects.

Some supermarket donors gave full and half-full carts on their way out of the stores, Scouts from the North Hills said.

"With the economy the way it is and just some of the challenges all of us are going through, I wasn't sure how it would turn out," said Roger A. Oxendale, the hospital's chief executive officer and the food drive's general chairman. "I am very pleased with the result."

UPMC was the lead donor, gathering almost 1.9 million units of food. A unit equals about one can of food. In addition to corporate donors, Scouts visited about 225,000 homes, Oxendale said.

Nicholas Ross, 13, of McCandless collected about 9,000 units of food and was one of two Scouts honored for individual efforts. Ross passed out fliers at four grocery stores in his community, but said he didn't have to make any special sales pitch to get donors.

One woman took a can from her full cart, but kept that can and gave him the rest of the cart to donate, he said.

"I think it was just that people were really willing to help out that made it a success," Ross said. "I think it's just a really good thing to do for the community. Food banks are really in need of food."

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