Santa’s coming to town, and so is the Easter Bunny, but instead of leaving behind boxes with bows or baskets of sweets, they’ll be visiting neighborhoods in the Chagrin Valley to help businesses collect donations for Bainbridge Area Food for Friends.

On Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 17 local businesses will partner with the Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce and drive through more than 50 streets for their Drive-by Food Drive to support their Nonprofit of the Year.

“It’s always important to support the local food banks,” Molly Gebler, director of the chamber, said, “but even more so right now because these are literally our neighbors who have found themselves in circumstances that they have never been in before.

“The saddest part, I think, about all of this is it’s nobody’s fault,” she added, noting many within the valley have lost jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the food pantry has seen triple the requests it normally receives to feed the community.

“It’s definitely a time that we all need to come together and be grateful for what we have and pay it forward,” Mrs. Gebler said.

She said chamber members chose to hold the event to continue their support of the nonprofit of the year. “In addition to the check we give to [our nonprofit of the year], we like to partner with them throughout the year and help them out.”

Volunteers will drive through streets in Bainbridge, Chagrin Falls and South Russell to collect from residents at the ends of their driveways, Mrs. Gebler explained. The participating businesses will also act as sponsors for the food drive by collecting donations with logo trucks and vans.

So why did the chamber invite Santa and the Easter Bunny?

“I wanted to do [the food drive] in a grand scale, not just ask people to donate then just hope that they do,” Mrs. Gebler said. In addition to the holiday guests and business drive-bys, which will also play music, she said those who leave donations for pick-up will be entered into a raffle for prizes like gift cards, candles, mugs and other goodies. And the community that donates the most will be named the Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce Community of the Year.

What does the community of the year win? Bragging rights, of course, Mrs. Gebler said.

Hot-ticket items the pantry needs, she said, include toiletries like shampoo, deodorant, sanitizers, wipes, feminine hygiene products and toilet paper; canned fruit and fruit cups; juice and juice boxes; dog food; baby products like diapers, baby food and formula; and even stationary items like greeting cards, among other standard donations.

“This is a time to feed our neighbors, and it’s super, super important right now,” Mrs. Gebler said, cautioning donors to watch for expiration dates and opened items. “It should be donations of food that would be served to your own family.”

Financial contributions are welcome as well, she said. Donors are welcome to run out and give monetary donations with social distancing. She said all volunteers will be wearing masks.

For those who might not be able to leave donations at their driveways, Mrs. Gebler said donors are more than welcome to take items right to the pantry drop boxes at 17826 Chillicothe Road, or donate online at bainbridgeareafoodforfriends.com.

The list of streets included in the drive-by is available online at CVCC.org. Mrs. Gebler said residents should check to make sure their street is included before leaving items at the ends of their drive-ways, noting busy streets like Chillicothe Road and Washington Street aren’t on the list for safety reasons.

All donations should be at the ends of driveways by 10 a.m. the day of the food drive. For those wishing to be entered in the raffle, they should put their name and contact information in with their donations.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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