Air Force ROTC trick-or-treats for canned food drive on Halloween

Members of Fresno State’s Air Force ROTC won’t be trick-or-treating for candy Thursday night.  Instead, they will be collecting canned food to donate to the Fresno Community Food Bank.

This will be the third year of the community service program started by junior cadet Marlon Lewis’ class.  Each year, a newly initiated class comes up with a community service event, and Lewis said their idea was to collect canned food on Halloween.

The cadets go to neighborhoods nearby in Clovis and around campus.

“We went out like you normally would to trick-or-treat but we’re not here for candy,” Lewis said. “We are hoping to take canned food to help the homeless.  Last year we got a lot of canned food.”

Sophomore cadet John Cyhaniuk said this is the first year he will be able to take part in the Halloween event, but he hasn’t picked out a costume yet.

Lewis said he’s still planning his costume but the group, which was about 30 people last year, dresses up like typical trick-or-treaters.

“We have people dressed up as Buzz Lightyear, princesses and normal stuff,” Lewis said. “Just go out like normal, except instead of candy we get canned food.”

Lewis said the ROTC at Fresno State has already collected more than 500 cans before the Halloween event.  He hopes after Halloween the number will be in the thousands.

“We set up a drive in the ROTC detachment with a friendly competition,” Cyhaniuk said. “It’s a pizza party for whoever wins.  Setting it up is like Facebook events, contacting the news and trying to get the news out there.  We’re trying to get as many cans as possible.”

After the initial surprise, Lewis said people respond positively.  He said last year the group collected cans for the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

He said people apologized for not having canned food at that moment, and that ROTC members would ask them to donate to a local food bank when they can.

He still remembers the first home they visited.

“The first one, they looked at us kind of weird,” Lewis said.  “I remember she looked back at her family.  She was caught off guard and like, ‘Ok?’ They’re looking to hand out candy and we’re looking for cans. Everyone enjoyed it.”

Cyhaniuk said it’s an easy community service project to do because everyone has a good time.

“This is easier than other community service projects because you are dressing up in costume and going out,” Cyhaniuk said.  “In some places colleges are looked at as bad influences by surrounding communities. As a university we get out there, accomplish a bunch of community service hours and build a good reputation. We’ll get more support from the community, and overall that’s better for the university.”

Lewis said they expect somewhere between 60 to 90 people that will be divided into groups to go out to neighborhoods around campus.  He said family and friends will join the ROTC cadets.

Lewis encouraged other students to get involved with their own friends and donate to a local food bank.

“It’s a good way for us to reach out locally to communities,” Lewis said.  “You are already going out to get candy.  It’s really easy to ask to get one can.  Someone might give you three.  And then you hit up a couple houses and get a lot of cans and really help a person.”