By Karen Datko/Havre Daily News food writer
Food can be many things. It can be a celebration, an expression of culture or ethnicity, a display of talent or creativity. It can be sustenance. It is a necessity.
Food sometimes also is love.
I saw this firsthand on Tuesday and Wednesday nights working with other volunteers to help Havre firefighters collect food donations door-to-door for the Havre Food Bank and the Salvation Army during the annual ELF (Everyone Loves Firefighters) food drive. Volunteers went door to door all over Havre. A firetruck or ambulance with lights on announced our arrival.
Here are some of my stories from those nights:
An elderly woman in a trailer - one with a roof that had been patched in a piecemeal fashion - filled a plastic shopping bag to the brim with canned goods, so much so that I had to double bag it to get it to the ambulance and still worried that the bags would break. She wanted to help out, she said, because there are people who need the food and maybe someday she'd need help too.
A young and equally generous woman likewise filled a bag full of food. She said her family had recently been doing without, but then "secret Santas" helped out. So now, she said, it was time to give something back.
Many people were waiting for the ambulance to appear on their block. They had their bag or bags of food ready by the door.
I remember one couple in particular in Highland Park who handed me a bag so large that I thought it must have held a very huge frozen turkey. A quick patdown confirmed that it contained nonperishable food items.
Many who didn't have bags of food ready by the door apologized profusely for forgetting about the food drive and making me wait. They plucked lots of cans from their pantries or shelves and rushed back to the door, still apologizing.
Sometimes people were waiting on the sidewalk or street so the volunteers didn't have to climb their steps or walk to their doors.
A number of people walked to us with their donations of food to make sure they weren't missed. One was an older man from a poor home in my neighborhood, the east end. He covered about half a block to make sure he got his canned goods to us. Another one of my neighbors carried a large bag of food up a steep hill. He said his block on a short side street had been overlooked in past ELF drives and he wanted to make certain it wasn't this year.
You might think the poorer parts of town would have little to give. I can tell you that's not true. It seemed that the people who've done without were determined to share what they have now. Those with little gave much. Some of the people who've worked on this food drive for years said the poorer areas of town are much more generous than those who have the most.
There were also some lighthearted moments. When a fellow volunteer asked for cans at one house, he got a bag full of empty beer and pop cans. He learned to be more specific in what he was asking for.
I learned that fellow Steelers fan can be found all over Havre, living quiet lives until Sunday rolls around.
I learned that my neighbors are very caring people. When the ambulance landed in my block with lights flashing, it parked in front of my house. When I went to pick up food from the families that live on either side of me, they were happy to see that I was all right and that the ambulance wasn't there to haul me away.
I also learned, more than I'd already known, that Havre residents are generous, caring people who look forward to a way to help the less fortunate among us. I ran into Food Bank manager Don Bleak at the supermarket on Thursday night and he said the last count of the food donated was 6,700 pounds. And the count wasn't done yet. That's more than twice the amount donated two years ago, and about six times more than last year.