In February 2020, Ryan Watterson ’04 purchased his first new truck, a black 2019 Chevy Silverado. By April, he and his fiancée, Melissa Alexander, drove 73 miles to and from a food bank in Manchester, New Hampshire, where they loaded that truck with food that was the equivalent of 2,300 meals to help hungry families in their community.
"The truck was full to say the least,” said Ryan, who was among the more than 500 alumni who reported their good work in the community to Carroll as part of the 2020 National Service Project food drive
. Ryan and Melissa packed the Silverado on another food bank run in April, this time with a 50-mile round trip to St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Keene, New Hampshire and back. With both food bank pickups, they reported a total of 4,000 meals collected.
Such efforts by Carroll alumni and friends made a significant impact to this year’s food drive, which far surpassed its 60,000-meal goal
. As of April 30, the last day of the food drive, the Office of Alumni Engagement had counted 227,157 meals, 522 participants and 42 states touched by those reporting that they had donated or helped in some way to help feed hungry individuals and families. Final totals will be known in the days following.
The participants and donors’ generous response may be spurred by higher community needs due to job loss resulting from the pandemic, said Dolores Ocampo Brown, Carroll's senior director of alumni engagement.
"I am so proud of the generosity and the caring action our Carroll Pioneers contribute year after year for our National Service Project, but especially this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic," she said. "The National Service Project continues to serve a purpose as we all work together toward a common, very humane mission, to feed those who might not otherwise be able to do so. I couldn't be prouder to be a Pioneer."
After a pickup, Ryan and Melissa drove the food to Monadnock Regional High School in Swanzey, New Hampshire for sorting. It’s here that Melissa works as administrative assistant to the assistant principal but she is also the volunteer program coordinator for a program called End 68 Hours of Hunger
. The program is not part of the school but is run out of the school to feed area school children.
It marks the 68 hours between lunch on Friday and breakfast on Monday, when food might be scarce at home, and they are sent home with backpacks to help curb that hunger. As schools closed, however, the program has shifted to creating family boxes of food for distribution every two weeks. Melissa helped start the local chapter in 2018 and it is the channel from which the couple and other volunteers are helping area families survive during the pandemic in particular.
“My job lately has been helping pick up food and sort food, so really I’m here for whatever they need me to do,” said Ryan, who is also vice president of the Keene Rotary Club, which tackled its own food service project about six months ago, putting together thousands of meals that were distributed to various community programs.
Ryan, a sales consultant with U.S. Cellular, said his company donated a large amount of reusable cloth bags to pack food for families. Inside a 10' x 20' room, they personally packed boxes of food and delivered to families who could not otherwise visit a school pickup area where food was being distributed. They had collected frozen meats, rice, fruit, yogurt, salad, cheese sticks, canned vegetables, canned pasta, eggs, potatoes, and juice boxes.
Monadnock—which reported 34% of its families eligible for free or reduced lunch in 2018—has seen an increase in need during the pandemic. Melissa said many people assume the greatest need for food might be found among those already qualifying for government services, such as food stamps. The greater need, she found, though, is among those who don’t qualify for those services.
"We’ve been providing students and families who aren’t normally part of our program that are in need because of this crisis,” Melissa said.
Ryan said he grew up committed to volunteering through his dad’s influence, seeing his father serve on various boards in the community. So, it’s no surprise that Ryan also brought along his dad to help with the recent food packing and distribution efforts.
“This is the town I grew up in and they’ve done a lot for me. The Rotary is ‘Service Above Self,” Ryan said. “I can see people kind of sometimes trying to decide what bill to pay, whether food or cell phone. If we can ease their minds a little bit by just giving them some meals for a couple of weeks, it goes a long way.”
Added Melissa: “We live in a small community. The visibility of the needs is great.”