BUCKHANNON – By the conclusion of its sixth annual Soup Drive, a local insurance company had collected more cans of soup than ever — 6,683, to be exact – for Upshur County Schools students in need.
After collecting just over 6,000 cans in 2022, Kelley Tierney State Farm set a goal of 6,000 cans of soup and other easy-to-fix meals like stew, mac ‘n cheese cups, Ramen noodles and Chef Boyardee. The soup drive – which ran during the month of October – easily surpassed that benchmark, Tierney said Friday.
“We got a little bit of a late start just because of the changes within the Upshur County School Board Office, but we went our full 30 days,” Tierney said. “We had over 6,000 for our fifth anniversary last year, and this year, we set a goal of 6,000 and blew by that.”
As they do every year, Kelley Tierney State Farm matches community contributions can-for-can.
“We had our doubts going into that last week,” she added, “but people remembered and heard that we were a little on the light side, and we ended up with 6,683.”
Pop-top and easy-to-open meals are best because the program serves first-graders through high schoolers, and Tierney always asks for no standalone cans of vegetables or meats.
“We have to remember that this is for first-graders all the way up to high schoolers, and first-graders do well with a pop-top; they do not need to be using a can opener or making meals,” she said. “Fortunately, this year, we were blessed with a lot of heartier soups – beef stew and meat and vegetable soups, not just the little condensed cans.”
About 483 backpacks have been distributed to nine schools to tide students over during the long Thanksgiving break. The agency worked directly with Communities in Schools personnel and other administrators at each school to get the food home to students.
“We actually divided out the soup based on the percentage of backpacks each school was giving out in relation to the total districtwide,” Tierney said. “Right now, they’re giving out 483 a week in the nine schools.”
Although Buckhannon-Upshur High School has not yet hired a Communities in Schools employee, Tierney’s agency used the numbers the school had provided for the 2022-2023 school year.
“As of yesterday morning, everything had been picked up so that it could go out when kids left the schools,” Tierney said on Friday.
So, how exactly did the Soup Drive get its start? Tierney said a discussion with one of her policy-holders –then employed as a teacher at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School – spurred Tierney and her staff to establish the annual Soup Drive.
“One of my policy-holders was a middle school teacher who was worried about kids’ nutritional needs over a nine-day break,” Tierney said. “I am a believer that if you don’t have any coin in the game, that isn’t good, so each year, we say to the community, whatever you donate, we will match can-for-can, and we have done that every year since.”
“We have never put a cap on it,” she added, “so this year, about 3,300-plus cans of soup and other meals were donated.”
Schools will receive the rest of their distribution the first week of December in preparation for an even longer break.
Tierney said support for the Soup Drive wasn’t limited to Upshur County residents and didn’t always come in the form of cans.
“More than ever this year, we had lots of folks who sent checks in the mail, cash in the mail – some from as far away as Washington State and Arkansas,” she said. “We had donations from people who have ties to the community, people who had read about what was happening on social media and just wanted to be a part of it.”
“We did a lot of shopping for folks to get soup, and then we would have churches show up with bags that their youth groups had collected,” Tierney added.
People familiar with State Farm’s efforts, including policy-holders, nonpolicy-holders and people who just wanted to ensure that no Upshur County School student faced a hungry weekend, have all pitched in.
Although the 2023 soup drive has concluded, Tierney said residents can still assist with the weekly backpack program by donating money or food items to a school of their choice. The need is great, as the backpack program is transitioning to each school operating its own, but it may run under the auspices of the Upshur Parish House in the 2024-2025 school year.
“I want to thank everyone who participated because we wouldn’t have been able to do this without our caring community,” she said. “Sometimes, I don’t think that they get enough credit. For all the upheaval and all of the division that folks are feeling and hearing about regarding our schools, the fact of the matter is, people here aren’t going to let somebody go hungry if they know about it.”
Kelley Tierney State Farm is located at 115 East Main Street in Buckhannon, and you can follow the firm on Facebook for future can drive updates, insurance coverage options and more.