Fueled by his can-do attitude, Marion native Chandler DeWees, 21, is well on his way toward raising $20,000 for Meals on Wheels.
Since mid-May, DeWees has been collecting beverage cans and bottles through designated bins at The Can Shed redemption centers in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. He also has organized can drives at Cedar Rapids and Marion Hy-Vee Food Stores, and with some friends, has collected beverage containers from Carlos O’Kelly’s and other area restaurants.
Initially hoping to raise $5,000, the goal has ramped upward to the new target of $20,000 by Tuesday. Before this past weekend, he already had raised more than $15,000, at 3 cents per can. A check will be presented to Meals on Wheels during an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning at The Can Shed’s new Marion center, at 370 44th St.
“Honestly, I’m real excited about it,” DeWees said.
During the pandemic, the Horizons Family Services meal delivery program has been providing frozen meals to homebound seniors and people with disabilities in Eastern Iowa, including more than 4,400 meals per week to Corridor residents.
The benefit project grew out of a Nonprofit Leadership Alliance class DeWees was taking this past winter at the University of Northern Iowa. He’s living and working in Cedar Falls right now, and will be a senior at UNI in the fall, majoring in Leisure, Youth and Human Services, with an emphasis on nonprofits.
“As we started talking about the class and what we do in the class, it just really inspired me to actually go out there and do something,” he said.
He chose Meals on Wheels as the fundraiser’s beneficiary because he “noticed how much they do to help people in Iowa, in general,” and he knew Peg Moses, Horizons’ CFO. “She’s been a huge help with this whole thing,” he added. “Troy and Julie (Willard) at The Can Shed have been a huge help, as well.”
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The Xavier High School graduate also gave a shout-out to his parents, Lisa and Tim DeWees of Marion. “They’ve been a huge help and support,” he said.
The original plan, which he began forming in January, was to hold a can drive on Grandparents’ Day, observed this year on Sept. 13.
“But we decided with COVID and everything going on, that it would help more people if we did it right now,” he said. “It’s been a success and it’s been amazing every step of the way.”
DeWees had contacted Moses for another class in which he was practicing grant-writing — a staple of the nonprofit world in which he hopes to work after graduation. So when he mentioned his can-drive idea to her around the first of February, she encouraged him to get in touch with the Willards, who agreed to donate 3 cents from every beverage container he collected.
Through their business, the couple have hosted can drives for Scout troops, schools, churches and other organizations. Information is posted on their website, Canshed.com
The Meals on Wheels project has reached a wide audience through word-of-mouth, emails, Horizons newsletters and social media, including Facebook.
“The community been so much help,” DeWees said.
He was shocked at the response to the June 20 drive, held outside the Marion Hy-Vee from 8 a.m. to noon.
“We had cars nonstop pulling up to Hy-Vee, dropping off their cans,” he said. “It was honestly amazing seeing how many people showed up.”
The work lasted another couple of hours, as he, the Willards, Moses, his parents and friends pitched in with collecting and sorting the containers according to size and material. It’s sticky business, DeWees noted, so they all wore gloves and masks for cleanliness and safety.
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The timing was right for this kind of event, he said. With the pandemic closing down beverage container redemptions in mid-March, “so many people have cans in their garage,” he added.
The timing also was right from Horizons’ point of view.
“Because of COVID-19, we were forced to cancel our largest fundraiser that supports Meals on Wheels,” Moses said in a recent program update. “It’s been heartwarming to see how a school project evolved into all of this. Chandler is such a hardworking, creative and caring young adult, and Troy and Julie and The Can Shed staff have gone above and beyond to support this.”
“The community has been great to work with as we try to get our business reopened, and people’s generosity has been overwhelming,” The Willards added. “The opportunity to help Horizons in their time of need has allowed us to get customers in and out as quickly as possible while serving a worthy cause at the same time.”
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• What: “Cans for Meals” can drive to benefit Meals on Wheels
• When: Through Tuesday
• Where: The Can Shed, 4121 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, and 611 Hollywood Blvd., Iowa City
• Check presentation: 10 a.m. Wednesday, during ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., at The Can Shed’s new Marion location, 370 44th St.