Soon, Zachary businesses will receive a letter from the Zachary Food Pantry urging them to participate as sponsors in the upcoming Pack the Pantry food drive, a monthlong fundraiser beginning Nov. 1.

The event unites Zachary city officials and leaders, businesses, schools and students, service organizations, athletic teams and plenty of volunteers in feeding the hungry and stocking pantry shelves for the holidays.

Food Pantry Director Reggie Dykes said he’s grateful for the united effort but reminds everyone they don’t have to wait until November to donate food or money. With financial contributions, the Food Pantry can purchase staples that aren’t donated but are much needed, such as peanut butter, cereal, corn meal, flour, rice and pasta sauce.

“Food is money, literally, and we need both before and after November and during spring and summer,” Dykes said. “Unfortunately, people are hungry year-round and don’t take a vacation from eating. Also, we can utilize volunteer help year-round, as there’s lots to do.”

The ideal volunteer is someone who is physically able to do a specific task and willing to do it the way it needs to be done, Dykes said.

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful, I truly don’t, but folks they don’t have to wait until Pack the Pantry to donate or volunteer. We can use help double-lining plastic bags, which kids and adults can do from home. We need help sorting through items that are donated, organizing canned goods, stocking shelves, working in the front office, cleaning. There is plenty to do,” Dykes said.

One thing businesses can do is to call to let the Food Pantry know if it has a food collection barrel. The cost of each is $40, and recently it was discovered that some of the barrels had been thrown away, requiring the purchase of 20 more.

“Please, don’t throw those away. If you no longer wish to have one on your property, call us, we’ll pick it up. If you’d like a barrel to collect food, we’ll bring you one, but each has to be accounted for,” Dykes said.

In 2014, 477 volunteers performed 6,130 hours of work at the Zachary Food Pantry, and a total of 3,500 households — 3,554 children, 5,150 adults and 1,183 elderly people — were served throughout the course of the year.

Feeding America determined that one pound of donated food equates to $1.69. Points are given to each food bank based on spreadsheets of data that are logged by the local food pantries. Based on the points, the food banks deliver items to the food pantries, and the points determine how much is delivered.

“We never know what we’re going to get. It’s often a surprise. Sometimes it’s fresh produce, frozen pizzas, fish or hamburger patties,” Dykes said. “Regardless, we’re grateful for everything we receive and everyone who can donate, especially the Zachary community and the schools. They’ve been very good to us.”

Every single item donated has to be sorted, expiration date checked, organized, properly labeled and stored, which takes time.

It’s why there is such a need for volunteers of all ages, athletic teams, the elderly, the retired or student groups. The Food Pantry is always in need of volunteer work and not only on distribution Tuesdays, Dykes said.

During Pack the Pantry, local schools will compete to see which can collect the most canned goods. The Zachary Fire Department will retrieve the canned goods and store the loot in bins in the city parking lot, which have been donated by PODS. Last year, the schools donated 11,000 pounds of food during the food drive.

On Friday, Nov. 13, a gumbo sale will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the city parking lot, featuring bowls of gumbo for $5 each. Paul Mier, of Chris’ Meats and Cajun Catch, along with a team of volunteers, will begin cooking the chicken and sausage gumbo about 2 a.m. that day.

Residents are encouraged to take part, as well, and drop off canned goods and nonperishable food items between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.

In addition to food, money and volunteers, the group could use donated plastic bags.

The Food Pantry is a nonprofit organization governed by a 14-member board of directors.

To donate food, call Dykes at (225) 654-4028 or (225) 247-8859.

To contribute financially, mail cash or checks to P.O. Box 932, Zachary, LA, 70791. All donations are tax deductible.