HUNTERSVILLE – The Kenney family opened Kilwins in Birkdale Village seven years ago. One year later, they began the practice of coordinating an extended end-of-year food drive to help the Loaves & Fishes food pantry at Huntersville United Methodist Church serve families in need throughout the Lake Norman region.
In the years since, Kilwins has developed a strong base of customers who visit the store year-round for custom ice cream flavors wrapped in waffle cones, freshly made fudge and an assortment of hand-crafted confections. But for Bill Kenney, the patriarch of the family running the local Kilwins franchise, loyal support for the shop’s annual Fill A Bucket, Feed A Family food drive is one of the venture’s most rewarding aspects.
“It’s amazing,” Kenney said. “Now people come in and ask ‘When does the bucket project start?’ And parents come in and tell us their children are already working on collections. It has become a special part of our business.”
Stephanie Plott helps manage Kilwins with her parents, Bill and Donna Kenney. She said the annual two-month drive, with multi-gallon Kilwins ice cream buckets serving as both the symbol of the campaign and the primary collection tool, has evolved into a seasonal tradition for many customers.
“There are a lot of families who have become regular participants,” Plott said, “and it is really nice to see how the kids get involved.”
Bill Kenney agreed.
“Seeing the children take part and be so excited about this is great,” he said, adding that school groups and Scout troops are big contributors. “It makes you feel good seeing young people learn the value of helping others – the importance of service.”
The food drive begins in November when the Kenneys, with little fanfare, stack empty buckets marked with the “Fill A Bucket, Feed A Family” message in their shop. It continues through the end of December.
“People bring in food and put it in the buckets or they take buckets with them and bring them back later filled with items,” Plott said.
Once the drive begins, Bill Kenney makes weekly deliveries to the Loaves & Fishes pantry at the church on Stumptown Road. And last week, while dropping off the final supplies from the 2017 drive, he was joined by his wife and daughter to present a financial contribution in addition to the food.
“We match it, one dollar for each pound of food people contribute,” he said. This year’s donation from Kilwins was $1,100.
Debbie Richards, a pantry coordinator, said the food and financial help provided by the Kenneys is especially helpful during the holiday season.
“On average we help about 40 families a week,” Richards said, “and that always increases in November and December.”
Pam Elsass, another pantry coordinator, said support from the business helps the food pantry keep up with demand, which continues to grow.”
“We help people get through hard times, emergency situations,” Elsass said, “and there are many people in need in this area. They may not always be visible, but the need is there.”