LAND O'LAKES — Sixty-four jars of spaghetti sauce huddled with five dozen boxes of cereal, 120 cans of vegetables, five cases of V-8 juice, several dozen bottles of salad dressing and piles of other food, including rice, pasta, soup and even 40 bags of Halls cough drops.
The bags and boxes were piled up at the Suncoast Harvest Food Bank last month, thanks to the efforts of Boy Scout Troop 323 and moms who used coupons to turn $480.64 into $1,584.17 worth of groceries, all donated for needy families.
"It was amazing. I thought it was really cool to use coupons to get so much more than we thought," said Christian Benson, 12.
The food drive that netted 3,538 pounds — 851 pounds more than the troop's collection in 2011— was part of Scouting for Food, the Boy Scouts' national annual food drive, which emphasizes the Scout goal to "Do a good deed."
Scout moms Laura Binney and Gail Weirich used their couponing expertise to turn an average food drive into something extraordinary — and along the way, the 25 Scouts and some of their parents gained valuable lessons in stretching food dollars to the extreme.
Binney and Weirich said part of the food drive's success came from the generosity of central Pasco shoppers and the support of the Wiregrass Publix at State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and the Winn-Dixie on State Road 54 at Collier Parkway, which allowed the Scouts to ask shoppers for donations.
In early February, Scouts and their parents gathered at the two stores, fliers in hand noting buy-one--get-one-free items, suggesting that the free items be donated as shoppers left the store, along with any other contributions the shoppers wished to make. The Scouts, with their trim uniforms and polite manners, impressed many patrons, some of whom had been Scouts themselves. When the weekend ended, there were scores of food bags and nearly $500 in cash.
Binney runs a Facebook blog, Couponing My Way. She's sharp on how to get maximum benefits from coupons. She and Weirich called Publix with a plan for getting the most out of that $500. The moms did not want to deplete entire shelves of items, so Publix staffers helped by gathering many items from stock.
After gathering, loading and transporting more than 1½ tons of food, parents and Scouts met at the Suncoast Harvest Food Bank. Many of the Scouts, who were out of school for Washington's Birthday, spent their free time sorting food into categories, moving it on dollies, weighing it and putting it into the right pickup spot.
Suncoast Harvest is a distribution point for Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties. Organizations gather food from Suncoast Harvest and hold events at which the free food is distributed to needy families.
Many of the Scouts were struck by the number of families in great need, and their thoughts went to kids like themselves who may go hungry.
"I felt a little guilty that I have plenty and there are kids out there who don't have enough to eat," said Kenneth Linderbeck.
"I felt good that I was helping people," added Spencer Weirich.
Aidan Jamai took the coupon lesson a step further for a recent Scout camping trip. Aidan, as Grubmaster, was in charge of stretching $50 to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner for five hungry boys. Using coupons, Aidan offered his group and several adults a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, chips, s'mores and much more. There was plenty of food for breakfast and lunch, lots of extra food held over for the next camp out, and, with coupons, Aidan spent only $44.58, more than $5 under budget.
At a recent Scout meeting, 25 boys ages 11 to 16 pored over fliers from newspapers. They were quick to find coupons for items needed for an upcoming spaghetti dinner fundraiser, knowing that less money spent through use of coupons means more profit for other Scouting activities.
Scout parents good-naturedly teased one another about lessons they've learned from using the coupons on the food drive.
"Even I've gotten into this couponing thing now," laughed scoutmaster Kay Linderbeck.