by Tim Leeds
Havre firefighters will be driving around town with lights flashing Tuesday and Wednesday as they conduct the ninth annual Everybody Loves Firefighters food drive.
Don Bleak, manager of the Havre Food Bank, said the ELF drive is the single biggest food drive for the food bank each year. Last year it raised more than 3 tons of food, he said.
The ELF drive starts at 6 p.m. each night, with emergency vehicles parked with flashing lights while volunteers collect donations. Firefighters plan to use three ambulances and three firetrucks during the drive, as long as no emergencies arise.
In the 2000 food drive, the Tuesday night collection was cut short when firefighters had to respond to an apartment fire. The firefighters and volunteers redoubled their efforts the following night to hit the areas missed because of the fire.
The drive collected more than 4,200 pounds that year, a record at the time.
Assistant Fire Chief Tim Ranes said the local firefighters union, which organizes the food drive, will divide volunteers into groups at the fire station about 5:45 p.m. each night.
The city will be split into two districts, with Fifth Avenue being the dividing line.
"We'll try to get the east side done Tuesday night and the west side Wednesday," he said.
Bleak said more volunteers are needed, although several groups have offered to volunteer, including some Montana State University-Northern athletes, church groups and Boy Scout troops.
Last year the drive would have collected more food but there weren't enough volunteers to cover the entire city in two nights, he said.
He said youths and adults are welcome to volunteer.
"It's a good opportunity for kids to understand what helping hands is all about," he added.
The Salvation Army helps with the organization and operation of the food drive. Bleak said their volunteers often concentrate on sorting the food at Van Orsdel United Methodist Church
Bleak said volunteers can either travel with the firefighters, or help sort at the church.