Can-A-Thon approaches 30th year

by Wes Mayer


From left, Nicholas Kittle, Eryn Harris, Lane Fayerman, Maddie Brown and Jaelyn Buford stand with collected peanut butter at Arnco- Sargent Elementary School. 

The 30th anniversary of the Coweta community Can-A-Thon is rapidly approaching, and residents, mainly students, have already collected hundreds of cans of food for the cause.

“I just want to thank all the county’s citizens,” said Can-A-Thon founder Tom Corker. “We have served tens of thousands of people over the years through their generosity.”

Orchestrated annually by the Newnan Junior Service League, the Can-A-Thon takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Corker said. Every bit of canned food and money collected goes to the Coweta Community Food Pantry, an organization that supplies food to struggling Coweta families throughout the year.

The food pantry is designed to help families get back on their feet by giving free food during a time of hardship, Corker said. It isn’t designed for the families to live on or continually receive from, though — families should still seek other forms of aid or income. In order to serve as many struggling families as possible, the pantry has limits on the food it can provide to each family.

The Can-A-Thon usually provides the food pantry with enough food to last at least through July, Corker said. Fortunately, there are many citizens in Coweta County who individually donate to the charity, allowing the pantry to provide food year-round.

The first Can-A-Thon took place in 1984. Corker, who was working as news director for WCOH AM/WRNG FM radio at the time, said he came up with the idea after seeing similar fundraising events in Atlanta and nationally.

After realizing there was a specific need in Coweta County, Corker got together with Department of Family and Children’s Services official Gloria Daniel, Coweta County School System Superintendent Robert Lee, and members of the Salvation Army and the Newnan Junior Service League to start the first Can-A-Thon, then called the Christmas in Newnan Can-A-Thon.

Prior to 1984, the Junior League held its own holiday fundraiser, Christmas in Newnan, which helped struggling families with clothes and other supplies, Corker said.

Over time, The name was shortened to “Can-A-Thon.” In the first year, the Can-A-Thon collected 25,000 cans, Corker said, twice the amount expected. Rev. David Lovelace offered to use St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as a storage site — and the Coweta Community Food Pantry was born. Representatives from several Newnan area churches form the board of directors.

The pantry has changed locations multiple times over the Can-A-Thon’s history, Corker said, but for the last several years, it has been located in the same building as One Roof Outreach at 320 Temple Ave. The Food Pantry and One Roof are separate charities, Corker said, though Derenda Rowe serves as executive director for both.

“The Junior League is responsible for handling all the cans, and they do an excellent job. I can’t say enough nice things about the Junior League.”

The Can-A-Thon has certainly grown since 1984. Last year, the canned and packaged food and monetary donations equalled some 290,000 cans of food, Corker said.

According to Dean Jackson, public information officer for the Coweta County School System, students raised more than 182,000 of last year’s canned goods. Lee Middle School raised the most cans with 30,192, followed by Smokey Road Middle School with 20,304, and Newnan High School with 17,800.

The Can-A-Thon has sparked some friendly competition among Coweta businesses and schools throughout the years, Corker said. For businesses, Bonnell Aluminum has been very active in the past, first showing up with a tractor trailer full of 19,000 items of canned food in 1987. Corker said they’ve always looked forward to seeing the Bonnell tractor trailer pull up at the Court Square collection site.

Corker also gave special credit to Coweta Equipment Rentals, which has helped supply the Junior League with tents, heaters and tables, free of charge, throughout the event’s history, and will again be assisting this year.

Coweta schools enjoy the competitive spirit around the Can-A-Thon. According to Jackson, this year, Lee Middle School and Atkinson Elementary are each holding volleyball games between faculty and students. Many schools are holding PJ days, allowing kids to wear their favorite pajamas if they bring in a can or jar of food. Newnan Crossing Elementary is having a “Duck Dynasty”-themed food drive, pinning paper “beards” to images of teachers on a “Beard Board,” the beards growing as students bring in cans. Canongate Elementary is having a “Kiss the Pig” contest — students who bring in 50 or more cans can vote for which teacher they would like to see give the pig a kiss.

This year, the Can-A-Thon falls on Dec 3. There will be two locations to drop off canned foods, Corker said. The Court Square in downtown Newnan and in front of the Goodwill on Highway 34 East at Thomas Crossroads.

“I know it takes a lot of food out of everyone’s pantries,” Corker said. “But it is for a great cause.”

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