SIKESTON - A can of soup, a box of cereal, a bag of noodles. It doesn't have to be much.
Yet to the families who receive the items through the Scouting For Food project, it means having food on the table one more day.
The annual event begins Nov. 16 when local and area Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in the Cherokee District will distribute an estimated 40,000 bags throughout Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi, Stoddard, Pemiscot and Dunklin counties.
Residents are asked to fill the bags left on their doorsteps with non-perishable food items and return them a week later to their front steps for the Scouts to pick up between 9 a.m. and noon Nov. 23.
Last year's event resulted in the collection of 24,547 cans. This year organizers are hoping to reach the 26,000 mark.
Nick Roberts, district executive of the Greater St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, pointed out the project provides some pantries with nearly three months' worth of food with just two days' worth of work.
"There are a lot of people who without this project wouldn't have much food to eat," said Dorene Johnson, executive director of the Bootheel Food Bank and Scouting For Food Chairman for the Cherokee District. "This is especially important here at the holidays because we give away Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets."
The need for such projects continues to grow. The number of poor Americans rose to 32.9 million in 2001, an increase of 1.3 million from 2000.
According to a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau, the unemployment rate in Missouri has risen by 10 percent over the past year and in southern Missouri visitors seeking assistance from local food pantries each month have risen over 40 percent in some areas.
Roberts said there will be 300 Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts participating in Scouting For Food in the Sikeston area this year, 1,500 in the district and more than 4,000 in Southeast Missouri. For those participants, the experience will offer an important life lesson and hopefully an appreciation of how fortunate they are.
The councilwide project involves 60,000 youths in 37 counties in Missouri and Southern Illinois, Roberts explained.
"The Scouts will be distributing one million bags and picking up nearly two million food items. I think the older Scouts are aware of the troubles that many families face. They know as a Scout, they are to be helpful to those in need and Scouting for Food is one way they accomplish this. And through the project the younger Scouts will begin to learn the importance of it."
Johnson's hope is that the boys realize the vital role they are playing in helping individuals who often find themselves going to bed hungry.
"The Boy Scouts have been feeding the needy for 17 years," she said. "I'm thankful I can work with the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and the troop leaders. We always have an enjoyable time Saturday when we come together with all of the donated food. You'll see the Scouts coming with a van or truck full of food and the big smiles on those boys' faces, all because they're able to help someone else."
Roberts said the project fits in perfectly with the mission of the Boy Scouts of America which is to prepare young people to make ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout oath and law.
Residents who don't receive a bag but wish to help the cause may drop off their donations before noon Nov. 25 at the First Assembly of God gymnasium.
After that date the non-perishable food items can be taken from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to the Bootheel Food Bank whose main operation has moved to 104 Keystone in the former National Lock building. The items can also be dropped off at Lowe's during business hours.