METNWS-11-19-20 COLLECTING FOR COPE_PHOTO

Gene Tilker, president of COPE Food Pantry, prepares a box of food for a client. Members of Girl Scout Troop 8029 are hosting Collecting for COPE, a food drive for the organization, this Saturday at Big John and Save-A-Lot grocery stores. All food and monetary donations will go toward COPE.

When members of Girl Scout Troop 8029 were in kindergarten, they started spending part of the third Saturday of November helping others.

While Groceries For Good is not being held at Metropolis grocery stores this year, the troop members are continuing their tradition by Collecting for COPE on Saturday.

Community members can lend a hand like they always have — by shopping for COPE at Big John or Save-A-Lot or giving a monetary donation to Girl Scouts at either location.

The food drive will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

•••

While other organizations have seen a need for services during the months of COVID-19, COPE has experienced the opposite: the number of those the food pantry has served decreased while monetary donations increased.

“We’ve been blessed this year. We haven’t had any serious problems. We’ve had a lot of financial donations, which has helped us buy food when we can’t get it from Tri-State (Food Bank based in Evansville, Indiana),” said Gene Tilker, president of COPE. “The only thing we can figure about the reduced numbers is the people on unemployment were getting that $600 a week and didn’t need our help.”

In fact, COPE’s numbers broke 300 in October for the first time since late winter/early spring with 302 families, or 636 people, assisted. However, Tilker noted, “our numbers are coming back up” as “we’re running 125 already this month and we’ve only been open two weeks.”

COPE has been open the entire year with its shift adjusted from late winter/early spring through Oct. 1. The pantry is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with two shifts from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

“We’re keeping it open, doing everything we can,” Tilker said.

As the holidays approach, he expects numbers to start increasing again, which is why food drives like the one being held Saturday are a blessing.

“Last year in December, we ran around 400 families assisted,” Tilker said.

Tilker began volunteering with COPE 10 years ago when the late Don Harper was board president. “He got me interested in unloading the truck, then working a shift. Then Bob Lingle took over. Then I became board president,” Tilker said. “I’m here more than I’m home. It’s more work than people think. Everything here is volunteer.”

Tilker said while COPE shifts are covered, the food pantry can always use substitutes to cover those shifts or volunteers to help unload the monthly Tri-State truck. For more information on volunteering, call 524-3635.

In December, in addition to the regular box of food, COPE will be passing out holiday bags with special items like cake mix, icing, stuffing and the choice of a turkey or a chicken.

“We’ll be purchasing 200 turkeys for it,” Tilker said, noting “churches and organizations have come back with quite a bit of stuff already (for the bags), which is stuff that if we don’t get it, we’ll have to purchase.”

During the rest of the year, monetary donations assist COPE in purchasing meat and other products not available monthly through Tri-State Food Bank. Monetary donations made out to COPE can be mailed to COPE, P.O. Box 461, Metropolis, IL 62960.

“We can use either money or supplies — canned goods, especially vegetables or fruit, is always a good thing,” Tilker said. “The things we have to purchase mostly are instant mashed potatoes, toilet paper, cereal and crackers. Those take up a lot of room when you buy them in bulk and we don’t have a lot of room.”

While COPE has a small storage area and recently purchased coolers to store its produce and dairy goods, Save-A-Lot and Big John let the organization use their coolers and freezers when needed. Big John donates its old bread for COPE’s food boxes.

This year, Save-A-Lot is holding an on-going food drive for COPE offering customers the opportunity to purchase food bags for $4.49 for the food pantry. Special bags — Bags for a Brighter Holiday — are available for the holiday season. “We’re trying to raise as many bags as we can fro the holidays and put them in a drop box for COPE to distribute,” said store manager Layla Turner.

•••

Before she passed away, long time Girl Scout leader Kathy Martin learned Groceries for Good wouldn’t be held in Metropolis this year. While she discussed it with her assistant leader, Lori Rottmann, the two never actually made plans for what was a tradition for Girl Scout Troop 8029.

Whether it was her Girl Scouts gift exchanging socks at Christmas, or her own friends exchanging cookies at Christmas, or doing whatever she could with her Girl Scouts or to assist COPE, “Kathy was one who was big on tradition,” Rottmann said. “We were always collecting things for COPE. That was important for her and obliviously Groceries for Good, too. We’ve always participated in that.”

It was Martin who for several years scheduled all the Massac County Girl Scout troops to work the county’s grocery stores on the third Saturday of November for Groceries for Good.

So after her friend passed away on Oct. 17, Rottmann knew that Collecting for COPE was a tradition that had to continue for the members of Girl Scout Troop 8029.

“Groceries for Good is something we’ve done every year since the girls were in kindergarten. It’s a tradition for us, but it’s also giving back to the community,” Rottmann said. “When we go every year, there are people in the community who come — they know Groceries for Good is every year and they come that Saturday to shop. We’ve seen those people. It’s something we didn’t want to see Metropolis miss out on, especially with this year. It’s something we felt that the girls needed to continue.”

Girl Scout Troop 8029 will be Collecting for COPE at Big John, while Crystal Smith’s troop helps at Save-A-Lot. Everything they collect — money or food — will be given to COPE.

“I have 14 girls in my troop. They’re all freshmen, which is rather a large group for a high school troop, usually they dwindle by that age,” Rottmann said. “If I have enough workers, we’ll take monetary donations and shop; if not, we’ll just give the monetary donations to COPE and let them handle it.”

Big John is glad to welcome the Girl Scouts on the third Saturday of November

“We love helping out the community as much as we can,” said store manager Rob Larrison. “We’ve always had a good turnout on that day. I’m glad they’re continuing this and we’re able to do something with everything that’s going on.”

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