Oatmeal campaign sees drop in donations

Charlotte’s annual oatmeal campaign is lumpier than expected this season.

The food drive, which collects donated oatmeal for homeless and low income children’s programs, is two weeks shy of its conclusion and still 35,000 pounds short of its 100,000-pound goal.

Last year, the campaign collected 136,000 pounds of oatmeal, sugar, grits, butter and flour, said Bob Bishop, who started the campaign eight years ago while volunteering at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.

“I’m not exactly sure why it’s lagging. I hear a lot of campaigns are slow right now,” he said. “It could have something to do with how many other food drives are going on at the same time.”

The slump comes just two weeks after three of the city’s Christmas charity programs reported a surprise drop in toy donations of 30 to 70 percent. That included programs run by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and New Outreach Christian Center.

Like Bishop, leaders of those programs are perplexed as to the cause.

The oatmeal campaign kicked off in mid-October, with the intent of raising a stockpile of oatmeal and other nonperishable foods for the city’s shelters. Oatmeal is a major staple of such programs because it’s cheap, nutritious and filling. It also has a long shelf life.

Over the past seven years, the drive has collected 650,000 pounds of food, Bishop said.

Most of the oatmeal goes to the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, while other beneficiaries this year include the Salvation Army Center of Hope for women and children, McCreesh Place, A Child’s Place and the breakfast program sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Some of the food also goes to Loaves & Fishes pantries.

At McCreesh Place, located on North Davidson Street, the donated oatmeal is used as a way to teach social skills to formerly homeless people with disabilities, said Pam Jefsen, executive director of Supportive Housing Communities, which operates McCreesh.

“Homelessness can be very isolating. They don’t have many friends, because they don’t know who to trust,” Jefsen said.

“We use the oatmeal to have a community meal, so they can brush up on their social skills. We may have as many as 50 show up, from age 30 to 75, and it can lead to a card game or a pool tournament.”