When Spencer Jonas turned 4 years old, he asked his friends to bring an item of food to his birthday party to be donated to the Good Cheer Food Bank in Langley. Now age 11, Spencer has been collecting food at his parties ever since.
His efforts over the next seven years gradually morphed into full-on food drives that brought ever-increasing amounts. Last year, he brought 216 pounds of food to the food bank. His goal this year was 500 pounds. Just after he marked his 11th birthday, he broke his record by a remarkably impressive margin.
The scale at the food bank read 1,725 pounds.
Spencer was “blown away” by the total.
“I was so happy. Surprised and really happy,” he said.
It took a lot of time and a lot of work, and many interactions with people all over the island, as well as some memorable moments.
Donation jars at Good Cheer’s thrift stores yielded $57 and change, for example, which included 220 pennies.
“I had to count them three times, because I kept losing track,” Spencer said.
Strangers donated $1 or $20. Many businesses were happy to put out food bins and money jars; some of those businesses also made donations.
Spencer had written a letter explaining his food campaign, and many places posted copies near the collection sites. He noted his “huge goal” of gathering at least 500 pounds of healthy food to donate to Good Cheer andwhy he does it.
“For one reason, I hate the idea that anyone would not have enough money to buy food and would have to starve or be hungry or unhealthy,” Spencer wrote. “I also like Good Cheer because I have seen it when we used to take our neighbor, and it was like a healthy grocery store. They actually had good food to choose from. To me, it is a special place in our town.”
One thrift store reported an occasion when a man named Carl came in, read Spencer’s letter, and said “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“A little later he returned with approximately 145 pounds of food to give to Spencer’s drive,” said his mother, Lynda Jonas.
“Spencer is amazed by all the places help showed up. Literally hundreds and hundreds of people contributed over the course of the past month,” she said.
The money donations totaled about $600, which Spencer and his mother used to shop at Costco (which also contributed a gift certificate) and the Dollar Tree store in Oak Harbor.
At Costco they purchased large bags of rice, flour, potatoes and other staples, along with boxes full of fresh fruit, from oranges to grapes, bananas and even pineapples. And at the Dollar Store they bought cans of peaches and tomato sauces, baked beans and chicken broth, plus ketchup and mustard, bags of beans and pasta, jars of olives, pickles and tomato juice. They even got some Tootsie Rolls and gummy candy so families could have “a little treat,” Jonas said.
The day of the food delivery to the food bank, Spencer was joined by some of his friends, Dylan Paine and brothers Luke and Collier Honald, who helped unload the provisions and made predictions about the total.
“They were the muscles,” Jonas said.
Shawn Nowlin, Good Cheer Food Bank manager, said the 1,725 pounds of food was a major donation and was gratefully accepted.
“It’s a big plus to be able to provide things like fresh fruit, offering a variety of choices instead of just staples,” she said. “Plus for clients to know it comes from the community, knowing that the community indirectly supports them, it has a tangible effect.”
Nowlin described the food bank’s setup, with food on shelves as in a grocery store, which Spencer mentioned in his original letter to prospective donors.
“… The people there were very nice and even had a yummy hot soup for us to eat,” he wrote.
“Spencer and kids like him are growing up with a sense of how people may need to live their life, and not be judgmental the way some adults may be,” Nowlin said.
She noted that another opportunity to contribute to the food bank will take place on Saturday, May 12, when postal carriers will pick up any food donations left by the mailbox in an annual nationwide campaign.
For his mother, Lynda Jonas, Spencer’s effort taught him other realities.
“It showed dedication,” she said. “He learned how to handle rejection graciously, and hopefully showed him he can orchestrate something so large and complicated.”
As for the next year, Spencer has an even grander ambition.
A ton of food.