A standing tradition continued this holiday season as Steve and Sue Colonel, and patrons of the various Chester School District 139 Christmas programs chipped in to raise more than $2,000 for the Chester Area Christian Food Pantry.
"Years ago we asked patrons of our various Christmas programs to bring canned goods to the concerts as a sort of admission to the events. After all of the annual Christmas programs were finished, we hauled all of the boxes of canned goods to the local food pantry to help with feeding those in need," Steve Colonel said.
"Over the years, Bob Koenegstein, director of the local Chester Area Christian Food Pantry, noted that monetary donations were actually very useful because it allowed the pantry to purchase items that were in great demand at the time."
Colonel then began "passing the hat," so to speak, at concerts to help generate monetary funds to help the pantry purchase the food items needed to fill holiday meal bags for clients.
"We really appreciate anything that is donated to the pantry. Many times, however, we have a ton of certain similar food items and not enough of other much-needed items to allow us to function with a variety of needed food items," Koenegstein said.
"When we get monetary donations, it allows us to purchase items we need and to offer our clientele a wider range of items to help round out their nutritional needs. Canned goods are always appreciated, however, monetary donations really allow us to better serve clients."
Steve and Sue Colonel have been hosting food drives at their Christmas concerts for many years. Sue Colonel is the band director and general music teacher at Chester Grade School while Steve Colonel is the band and vocal music director at Chester High School, as well as the vocal music director at Chester Grade School.
Having patrons of the Christmas concerts at both schools bring canned food donations was a great way of collecting canned goods for the CACFP for many years. However, there was a lot of work involved for both the Colonels and the food pantry in collecting, sorting, boxing and transporting all of the hundreds of items each year.
There was also the added hassle for patrons who had to bag and haul those items to the concerts each year. And the Colonels further have enough "after-concert" duties as it is -- clearing the gym floor, getting chairs and musical instruments back in the band room and putting other concert-related items away at the conclusion of each concert. Having to deal with canned goods was another major task at the end of a concert.
At this year's high school concert, Steve Colonel noted another selling point for passing the hat: The food pantry can purchase two or three times more food items with a dollar donation via their purchasing connections than donors can purchase by going to a grocery store.
"Not only can Mr. Koenegstein purchase more items for each dollar donated, he can also be sure to purchase the food items that are currently needed at the pantry, so it is a win-win situation when we have a pass-the-hat at our concerts instead of asking for canned food items," Steve Colonel said.
Last year when holiday concerts had to be canceled due to COVID restrictions, the Colonels made up for the loss of donations at their school concerts by asking potential donors to drive by their house in Chester to see the huge Christmas light display that covers the entire front and side lawns at their house.
The Colonels have recently earned the reputation for having one of the biggest and best Christmas light displays in the area, and people have been known to drive from miles around to see the beautiful lights and Christmas scenes.
Last year on certain nights, the Colonel family sat in front of their light display to collect donations for the pantry.
The result was a collection of more than $2,000, which was quickly donated to the Chester Area Christian Food Pantry.
This year, with concerts back in operation, the Colonels took donations at the school Christmas concerts, as well as in front of their house from drive-by viewers.
The results were fantastic: The grade school concerts raised $713.55, high school concerts raised $718, and the drive-by donations added $801, for a grand total of $2,232.55.
The Chester Area Christian Food Pantry was extremely grateful for the very generous donation made possible by the various patrons to the CGS and CHS Christmas concerts, as well as those who made drive-by donations at the Colonel household to view the light display.
Colonel already has started collecting new items to expand his 2022 Christmas light display and promises that it will be even "bigger and better."