Milford Scout campout and food drive aims to help 350 families

MILFORD — Working round-the-clock to help others is nothing new to Milford Scouts.

The Thanks-for-Giving Food Drive, now in its 18th year, has local Scouts camping out at Wasson Field over two days, collecting and sorting food donations and staffing collection sites at local supermarkets. The campout began Friday and runs through noon Sunday. 

The round-the-clock food drive started in 2005 and was an immediate success, according to organizers. Over the past 16 years, Thanks-for-Giving has distributed more than 130,000 pounds of food, 4,460 turkeys, and $33,000 to help provide food for more than 2,300 Milford families. 

"We had intended to do a relief effort for Hurricane Katrina, and we decided that it would be better to do something for our local community," said Tom Mercaldo, who is co-chairing the drive with Todd Munn, about the initial hopes for the event. "We ran our first food drive, stocked the Milford Food Bank, and fed 50 Milford families."

Seventeen years later, the annual food drive supports more than 10 charities and 350 Milford families with Thanksgiving meals. The effort also supports the Milford Food Bank, Cornerstone Food Pantry, the John Rigley food pantry, Food2Kids, and more. 

"The partners we worked with feed over 1,000 families," he said. "There are a lot of families being impacted by our food drive."

Mercaldo said the groups collectively support multiple families in Milford, and with the remaining food, they try to help families in New Haven, Stratford, and Bridgeport.

"But, working closely to home is our mindset," he said.

The event is held by the Milford Family Services along with Boy Scout Troop 1, Cub Scout, packs 7, 13, 17, and 196; Girl Scout Senior Troop 38375; Girl Scout Cadette troops 08309 and 30311, Girl Scout junior troops 38323, and 38348; and Brownie Troop 30320. 

"There will be somebody here at 2 a.m., and Scouts will be camping each night," said Mercaldo.

The nonstop model has been successful for Troop 1, even during COVID-19.

"We were very successful in collecting food during COVID when many charities weren't," Mercaldo said. "We have three aspects to our food collection model — the school collection, businesses who donate money, and food and supermarket collections."

Organizers ask that donated non-perishable foods do not exceed their expiration date and to bring Thanksgiving-themed products such as frozen turkey, instant stuffing, instant whipped potatoes, canned sweet potatoes, canned vegetables such as corn, peas, carrots, and pearl onions, cranberry sauce and canned fruit. 

Other food needed includes pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter, fruit jelly, canned soup, canned stew, canned fish, canned chicken and rice. 

Food will also be collected at Milford supermarkets including Adams, Big Y, ShopRite, Stop & Shop at Silver Sands and Stop & Shop at est Town Road. Stop & Shop also will donate food directly to the food drive. 

"It's important to us that it is a communitywide effort," he said. "I know it's sponsored by the Boy and Girl Scouts, but it's more than just a Scout activity."

Last year, Troop 1 distributed 372 baskets and this year, is on target for 350.

"We get lists from the municipality and the school system, and they've provided us with 342 names, but we also deliver to some families who are off the list," Mercaldo said.

James Mercaldo, 23, has participated in every food drives since its inception.

"The experience is different depending on how old you are," he said. "When I was a Cub Scout, it was fun running up to the cars, grabbing the turkey, and keeping the turkey count. Now that I'm older, I'm getting more into sorting, and last year, I helped by driving around and doing deliveries. So there's a good variety of things to do."

James said he and his family have a tradition of coming to help at the food drive even after he graduated from the Cub Scouts.

"I'm expecting to see my brother today, but also, it feels good to give back to the community," he said.

One of his favorite memories was when his Scoutmaster said he would shave his head if they hit a turkey goal.

"The goal was higher than we had ever gotten in the past, and when we hit that turkey number, he shaved his head at the following pack meeting," James said.

Most important for Troop 1 is getting people down to donate food, and Tom Mercaldo said someone would be ready to receive the donations at any time.

"We are here for your convenience, 24/7," he said.

For information, visit the Facebook page at ThanksforGiving Food drive or email fooddrive@aquinasconsulting.com