It's a misty, cold Saturday morning at St. Stephen United Methodist Church on Sardis Road, but bad weather is no match for the high spirits of the Boy Scouts of Troop 118.
Sausage biscuits are cooking on a tricked-out camp stove, while camp-style coffee pots are filled with hot chocolate and coffee. It's organized chaos, but everyone's concentration is on the task at hand - taking in food and sorting it for distribution at Loaves & Fishes food pantry.
Troop 118 Scoutmaster Stephen Pace said he is proud of the effort his Scouts put forth each year for the project.
"I never set a troop goal as far as the number of pounds of food we collect," he said. "I like to do what we did last year - plus."
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With a 2010 record of 18,799 pounds, the troop traditionally holds bragging rights for most food, by weight, gathered in the Mecklenburg Council. To put it in perspective, last year all troops put together gathered a total of 140,735 pounds.
Scouting for Food has been a yearly community service project for the Mecklenburg Council of Boy Scouts for 20 years. Pace said his troop has been a participant since the beginning.
Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, said she thinks the healthy competition between troops encourages the boys to gather more food.
"And in the end, it really benefits all the people in our community who are in need," Howard said.
The boys' efforts do not go unnoticed. Howard said Loaves & Fishes is truly appreciative, and she believes these young men are the hope of the future.
"If we can get boys at this age to learn the importance of giving, it will carry over with them to adulthood," she said.
Bryant Cornett, 17, who is Troop 118's assistant senior patrol leader, is a bit surprised at the attention paid to the project. He points out that, as with all service projects they do, the organization is delegated by the boys themselves.
"For us, it's such a normal thing to do, and it's not hard. If you get a bunch of people together, you can get a lot accomplished," he said.
Matt Anderson agrees. The 18-year-old senior patrol leader, a seasoned participant with seven years of involvement under his belt, said he takes bags to his neighbors in Sardis Forest and puts them on their front door handle.
"I covered three streets in my neighborhood with about 75 bags and I got back about 50 percent," said Anderson.
"I had to share my neighborhood with another guy in the troop who lives in my neighborhood," said Cornett of his Robinson Woods subdivision.
In the tradition of Scouting, the boys worked out a plan whereby each one covered one side of the street. Cooperation and organization are a few of the important elements that make this project successful each year.
The benchmark set by the senior patrol leaders was for each boy to collect an amount of food that was equal to or greater than their body weight.
"I weigh 145 and I brought in 705 pounds of food," said Anderson. With 88 boys participating, surpassing last year's total seemed achievable.
The two senior patrol leaders, although satisfied with the overall effort of the boys themselves, felt neighborhood donations might have been down a bit this year. They chalked it up to the bad economy.
But any shortfall was made up by relatives, friends and caring folks who came out in droves on a chilly morning to support the project. Troop 118's final tally was 25,156 pounds of food.
Because of Scouting for Food, the boys see firsthand how cooperation can make incredible things happen.
And the folks in Mecklenburg County who will be fed through this project are better off for it.