To celebrate Eagan's sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary planning committee set an ambitious goal: To raise 150,000 pounds of food in 2010, or more than two pounds for every resident.
Mayor Mike Maguire called the goal a "stretch." "It's going to take a lot of work," he said at the city's 150th birthday party in early January, amid the blasting of city-supplied noisemakers.
As it turned out, the mayor had no reason to worry. The campaign has raised 282,708 pounds of food, or enough to pack a 15,000-square-foot machine shed or an impressively large McMansion. And there's three months left in the year.
"We're just tickled pink," said Scott Swenson, an Eagan bank executive and volunteer chair of the 150th committee. "We thought we were setting up this tremendous challenge, more than maybe was possible. But then we had to double our goal to 300,000 because we surpassed the first one three months in."
The 150th committee was able to raise such a gargantuan amount of food by pulling in assistance from churches, corporations, schools and civic groups -- volunteers who gathered a carload here, a few bags' worth there.
The second-graders at Glacier Hills Elementary gathered 854 cans of food to beat out the competing grades, earn an extra recess and get a surprise appearance by uniformed firefighters. The Eagan Women of Note, a community choir, rounded up 132 pounds of food at a concert.
Businesses, too, rallied to the cause, which is the subject of an ongoing tally on a giant plywood thermometer at city hall. The new Panda Express outlet gave out two-entree plates to anyone who brought in cans of food during its grand opening celebration. Overnight guests at SpringHill Suites in Eagan can still claim an upgrade to a king jacuzzi suite (if available) with a 10-can donation. And food-donating motorists can get a $15 oil change at Superior Service Station.
"We told business owners we'd advertise their special on eagan150.com, and a lot of people really jumped at that," Swenson said.
The drip-drip-drip of donations occasionally swelled to a flood. A month-long challenge campaign at the Blue Cross Blue Shield headquarters netted 7,764 pounds of food. At the July 4th FunFest Parade, a giant float shaped like a grocery cart publicized the food drive and collected more than 3,000 pounds from parade-goers.
The most impressive showing, during the Aug. 3 National Night Out, created such a frenzy at the local food pantry that a fleet of volunteers was called in to work assembly line-style. All told, more than 110 neighborhood groups donated 36,000 pounds of food during the one-night drive.
"This really couldn't have come at a better time," said Lisa Horn, executive director of the Eagan Resource Center, one of two food pantries benefiting from the drive. "The last couple of years, we've been giving out 20 percent more food to Eagan families due to increased need. Some people are really hurting for work, and they are hungry."
Swenson said the 150th committee wanted to do something bolder for its sesquicentennial celebration than the standard historical display case and extra-big fireworks show on the Fourth (though Eagan had both).
Already, Swenson said, business owners are telling him that they are going to keep their donation bins up when the year is over. And the grocery cart float is going to make a return appearance at the FunFest Parade in 2011.
"If we continue to build awareness about Eagan's hunger problem, that will be our real sesquicentennial legacy," Swenson said.
Alyssa Ford is a Minneapolis freelance writer.