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.
The food drive was started in 1987, at Blessed Sacrament Parish (DC) by Greg Gannon. He was a man of service and faith with a passion to help those in need. Inspired by the idea to have his friends collect food for the poor, he started what was to become an event which would collect over one million food items for the hungry of the metropolitan DC area. In 2006, Greg passed away after suffering from brain cancer. The food drive has since continued to thrive under the leadership of Greg’s brother Rick Gannon. The annual food drive has become a treasured tradition for thousands of volunteers. In 2012, our family volunteers collected the one-millionth can of food for the GGCFD – an amazing accomplishment.
This simple model for a food drive has grown exceed everyone’s expectations. Thousands of people have participated in the yearly drive, and to date through 2016, more than 1,500,000 cans of food have been collected and donated to D.C. and Maryland area food banks. Nearly 80 percent of the participants have volunteered for more than one year, with many having participated for several years. “It’s a great way to give our kids things to see, feel and do,” says Rick Gannon, “so they really understand what it’s like to help others.”
This food drive is the story of how one man, and one family, carried out an idea that has inspired and energized countless families. It is a wonderful experience to serve the less fortunate as a family not to mention to spread our Catholic faith through action not just words! And to see the collection of thousands of items of food leaves a lasting impression on all involved. One participant likened the GGCFD to a barn raising, where a community comes together and accomplishes something one family could not do on its own.
With the support of Catholic Charities, the GGCFD has been able to share their model with other parishes of the Archdiocese of Washington. This simple proven method of engaging adults and children alike to collect food items is creating new traditions for more families. The charity has grown to include more than 3,000 volunteers from 11 parishes, all of which are committed to helping address hunger in our communities while teaching children to serve their neighbors. Over the last five years, our canned food drive has branched out, well beyond the District of Columbia, into Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and other Maryland suburbs.