The modus operandi for local news is usually “if it bleeds, it leads” so, even at Christmas time, a feature about a local food bank stands out, particularly because of the remarkable flood of volunteers—from 22-year-olds to 85-year-olds—who keep it humming
The annual “Stuff the Truck” campaign from Fox-owned WTTG Washington has a provocative name but an important mission. The third Friday of December is “a day of giving,” says executive producer Elisa Berkowitz. On that day, three WTTG trucks trek to specific shopping-mall parking lots in the region. Viewers respond by bringing nonperishable foods, helping to fill each truck with donations for the Capital Area Food Bank.
It’s the size that matters. Public Affairs Coordinator Nancy Krantz says the Food Bank serves 275,000 people, providing food to churches and shelters all over the area. Much of the food is not for traditional soup kitchens but for warehouses laid out like supermarkets, where people in need get what they want but don’t have to pay. The station provides live coverage during its morning and evening news programs along with frequent cut-ins during daytime programming.
“Three years ago, we were looking for a project, and the Capital Area Food Bank, which is well-known, was looking for a partner and came to us,” Berkowitz says. “We jumped at it.”
The first two years proved that WTTG had a lot to learn about the charity business. But the kinks were worked out. Last year, the station teamed with Viacom-owned Infinity Broadcasting, which not only promoted all three main sites but also provided music, entertainment and manpower at two satellite locations to make it easier for donors to reach a site.
While “logistics remain the toughest part, since we don’t have an endless budget,” Berkowitz says, “it’s a completely different project now.” Just from 2003 to 2004, the donations grew from 21,000 pounds of food (estimated at one meal per one pound of food) and $9,000 to 45,000 pounds of food and nearly $45,000.
The project’s evolution has also had an impact internally at the station. In the first year, not everyone understood the campaign and its goals. Now everyone does and everyone takes part, from the sales department to the engineering department. “It makes us all feel good to help out at the holidays,” Berkowitz says. “People say to me, 'Hey, I want to be involved. What can I do?’”
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Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.