Wheatland Electric officials are hoping to set a record this year for the pounds of donations collected during its Cram the Van Food Drive. Wheatland will host a freewill donation (cash or can) lunch at its Great Bend office, 2300 Broadway Ave., from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday Oct. 18. That will be followed by dinner at the football field prior to the Great Bend vs. Liberal Football Game with service starting at 5 p.m.
Donations are also being accepted all month at all Wheatland offices.
Six years of giving
Six years ago, Wheatland Electric set out to find a new way to expand its involvement in the seventh cooperative principle, “Concern for the Community.” Several ideas were kicked around, but they ultimately settled on a community food drive.
The main objective was set — collect non-perishable food items from co-op members and deliver them to community food banks before the busy holiday season. In 2014, Wheatland found the largest vehicle in its fleet — a big, red extended passenger van — removed all the back seats, plastered on some flashy graphics, and set out to help people in area communities. The plan was to grill hamburgers and hot dogs as a “thank you” for donations, and to make stops throughout Wheatland’s service territory. The first year set a great baseline with a total of 6,615 pounds of donations.
In the second year, Cram the Van hosted 11 events and saw 7% growth in donations. It added drop-off locations and started the annual Fall Finale event which has also grown in popularity and since moved to the Scott City airport’s Spencer Flight and Education Center.
Wheatland Electric received recognition for Cram the Van in the 2015 “Spotlight on Excellence” national awards program, sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, earning a Gold Award in the Best Event Category.
In 2016, sponsors looked for different ways to reach community members who may not have participated in years prior. This was the first year they partnered with the Cardinals Care Food Drive, a school competition in Conway Springs, and the Harper Fall Fest, a barbecue competition and craft fair in Harper. Both events were extremely successful and helped collect nearly 5 tons (9,363 pounds), a 32% increase of donations from the previous year.
After seeing the great response from the school competition in Conway Springs, Wheatland decided to get other schools involved. In 2017, Wheatland partnered with Hiss-Sherman Wealth Management Group to sponsor a district-wide school competition in Great Bend. The students of Great Bend responded in a big way, nearly quadrupling Great Bend’s previous year’s total.
In 2017, Cram the Van collected nearly 10 tons (19,332 pounds) of donations — more than doubling the previous year — with a growth of 107%.
Last year, Great Bend collected 5,852 of non-perishable food items for the local food bank. They also extended the school competitions to Holcomb and Scott City, both of which were well received, and helped set a record for total donations of 22,382 pounds (11 tons).
Over the past five years Cram the Van has collected more than 32 tons (64,773 pounds) of total food donations. All collected items have been given to the local food bank in the community they were donated. This year, they added the Greeley County schools to their school competitions and hope to expand these friendly-competitions to all the schools in our service territory in the future.