If you’ve lived in the DC area for any amount of time, you’ve seen them. They appear on your front porch or doorstep in early December—brown paper grocery bags with a neatly typed request for canned food stapled to one side. Within a day or two, they disappear.
The bags are a herald of the holiday season, and the hallmark of a special local tradition: the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive.
Simply put, the canned food drive is a story about how one man, and one family, came up with and carried out an idea that has inspired and energized countless other families in our area for over 29 years.
In the late 1980s, Greg Gannon, a parishioner at the Shrine of Blessed Sacrament on Chevy Chase Circle, started a food drive with his wife, “Mo,” to help feed the poor. Together with a small group of friends and family, they went from door to door, collecting cans and boxed food items, delivering much-needed help—and hope—to those in need.
The canned food drive was part and parcel of Gannon's lifelong dedication to helping others. A high school teacher and community leader, he founded the Higher Achievement Program, an academic enrichment course for disadvantaged youth, while teaching at Gonzaga College High School. Since its founding over 30 years ago, the program has aided more than 10,000 District students. Watch a recent video created to celebrate the 40th Anniversary!
Eventually, Gannon persuaded his brother Rick to take over the helm of the drive in 2000, but he continued to be involved even after his diagnosis of brain cancer in 2001, right up until his death in 2006, at the age of 55.
Greg Gannon’s food drive grew to exceed anyone’s expectations: Thousands of people have participated in the yearly drive, and more than 1,200,000 cans of food have been collected and donated to area food banks. Once volunteers participate, they tend to make it an annual family ritual. Nearly 80 percent of the volunteers have done it more than once, with many participating for years.
“It’s a great way to give our kids things to see, and feel, and do,” says Gannon, “so they really understand what it’s like to help others.”
Moreover, this huge community effort it has an impact that goes beyond inspiring participants to help others—it also helps begin to meet a tremendous need. According to Lynn Brantley, the president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, “over the years, this food drive has significantly helped us meet increased demand and ensure that all our neighbors have enough to eat.”
We are thrilled to see the growth and expansion of a wonderful cause to help the needy in the DC area. Please contact the Greg Gannon team if you are interested in holding your own food drive!