For many local Boy Scouts, the Thanksgiving holiday would not be complete without the "Tower of Tuna." The diminutive structure, made entirely of tuna cans, has become an integral part of the annual Scouting for Food drive, said event coordinator Bill Eldard.
"One of the most common food items we get is cans of tuna fish," said Eldard. "The boys build it up into towers."
"They build it up into castles and battlements," said Hal Hagemeier. "They have a good time."
On Saturday, Nov. 12 in the parking lot of the Burke Centre Shopping Center, the Tower of Tuna rose again. Every so often, an older scout sorting through food donations would shout "Tuna!" and the can would make its way to the group of Cub Scouts constructing the building. The scouts had decided upon a fortress design, adding a few perilous turrets and a doorway.
"It's the best tower ever," said Steven Hite, who helped brother Nicholas Hite and other Cub Scouts stack and arrange cans.
SCOUTS FROM all age levels work together to organize and carry out the food drive, a charity event hosted by the Boy Scout service organization Order of the Arrow. On Saturday, Nov. 5, Cub Scouts dropped off bags at houses across the Patriot District, covering Burke, Fairfax, Fairfax Station and Annandale. A week later, older Boy Scouts picked them up and deposited them in the shopping center parking lot.
"This has been a program in scouting for long time," said Eldard. "We do it every year as one of the ways the Scouts try to be visible in the community … it's probably our biggest community service event every year."
Last year, Eldard said, 82 percent of the around 70 scout troops in the Patriot District participated in the drive, collecting 15 tons of food. This year, the troops surpassed their goal of 16 tons of food, he said, and along with the other 26 districts in the National Capital Area Council, hope to surpass the council's 1-million-pound goal.
The Scouting for Food drive is particularly important for scouts in the Fairfax County area, said Darryl Mathis, who spent the day collecting food with son Darryl Mathis III.
"With this kind of project, it certainly alerts the boys to the fact that there are people who are less fortunate than they are," said Mathis. "Our boys get to go on canoe trips and backpacking trips, but those cost money and their parents can afford it. We have a certain responsibility to people in the area, to help anybody we can help."
"This is one of the better things we do," said Scout Darryl Mathis III, 15. "Instead of a single troop doing one thing, you get all troops together. It’s great how everyone gets together."
EAGLE SCOUT Kevin Nicholas, 16, has been a part of the Scouting for Food project since he was much younger. The project provides a way for Scouts to become involved in the larger community. When Kevin was in eighth grade, his troop went on a mission trip to Washington, D.C. He remembers one man, he said, whose family members were all successful, but who had fallen through the cracks himself and was homeless.
"[Fairfax County] has rich spots, but there are people still in need here," said Kevin.
Boy Scouts Jake Lieber and David Levonian said they were struck by what they saw when they volunteered to help cook soup and distribute food at local homeless shelters.
"There are a lot of single parents, a lot of kids my age," said David.
"You could be sitting right next to them and not even know," said troop leader Philip Sternberg.
"You help people in need, which is good," said Jake. "It's a lot of fun, actually, when there are a lot of people there."
At the end of the morning, when the trucks and vans were emptied and cardboard boxes filled with cans, jars and packets of food, scouts transported the food to the Capital Area Food Bank.
Many local organizations received food as well, said Sternberg, whose troop brings its collections to St. Stephen's United Methodist Church. The church sets up a food bank, he said, from which people in need may come and do their food shopping for free.
The community is the real cause of a happy Thanksgiving this year for locals in need, said Eldard. "We're the catalyst that pulls it together," he said. "It's really the generosity and compassion of the people of the Burke area."