Never accuse Aaron Hannah of not being ambitious and failing to set high goals for himself.
Later this month, Hannah, a 19-year-old 2012 graduate of Raceland-Worthington High School, will launch what is essentially a one-man food drive. His goal: to collect at least 10,000 pounds of canned food for River Cities Harvest to distribute to local nonprofits and churches that help feed the hungry.
Hannah, who just completed his freshman year as a Bonner Scholar at Berea College, said scholars are encouraged, but not required, to do community projects designed to help the needy.
Hannah, who lives in Raceland and is spending the summer volunteering at the Shelter of Hope in Ashland, decided to launch a project he dubbed “Cans for a Cause.”
“I never knew how many people in this area were in need of such things like food that the average person takes for granted and never thinks about living without,” he said.
Hannah’s drive will begin Thursday when he will go door to door in South Ashland dropping off 1,076 paper grocery sacks he hopes people will fill with canned goods.
On June 28, Hannah will retrace his route, at which time he hopes to find many sacks filled with canned goods.
“I’m hoping for a 60 percent return rate on the sacks I distribute,” Hannah said. “People have told me this is a bit ambitious and I won’t get nearly that many sacks filled. But I believe you have to think big.”
Hannah also has an alternative area for distributing the sacks in the neighborhood known as the Reservation just off Blackburn Avenue at 13th Street.
Bob Sweeney, the associate pastor and youth minister at South Ashland United Methodist Church, suggested the neighborhoods for distribution of the sacks. Hannah said he has known Sweeney since he was pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Raceland, and since Sweeney grew up in Ashland, he knows the city much better than an “outsider” like Hannah.
“He said these are good neighborhoods with great people who have a long history of being generous in helping others,” Hannah said. “He said they will give.”
When he was pastor at the church in Raceland, Sweeney said Hannah, then a young teen, was active in community projects, including Greenup County Habitat for Humanity.
“He is one of those people, who if he takes on something, he will see it through even if other people don’t get behind him. He doesn’t get discouraged and give up,” Sweeney said.
Hannah paid for most of the grocery sacks with a little help from the Berea program. Between the Shelter of Hope and the food drive, Hannah said he already has logged more than 130 volunteer hours this summer, with 90 of those to organize the food drive.
“I know it is a lot of time, but I enjoy it,” Hannah said. “And if it generates a lot of food to help feed the hungry in this area, it will be well worth it.”
The Berea program is dedicated to promoting community service, Hannah said. Because most Berea students work their way through college and pay no tuition, Hannah said the program “is not really a scholarship because Berea students don’t need scholarships.
According to its website, the Bonner Foundation is funded by Corella and Bertram F. Bonner and supports anti-poverty programs such as hunger and education. Beginning at Berea in the fall of 1990, the foundation supports a four-year, service-based college scholarship program. The Bonner Scholar and Bonner Leader programs have since expanded to more than 75 colleges and universities across the country.
Hannah is not ignoring the rest of the area in his effort to collect food for the hungry. “I don’t have enough bags to go to every single house in the Tri-State,” he said. “If I did, I would try my best to do so.
Hannah has established drop-off locations where people can donate nonperishable goods: Raceland Christian Church; the Bellefonte Academy of Beauty in Russell; First & Peoples Bank and Trust Co. in downtown Russell; Paradise Pools in Flatwoods; the Boyd County Public Library on Central Avenue in Ashland, Catlettsburg and the Kyova Mall; the Greenup County Public Library in Greenup; South Ashland United Methodist Church on 29th Street; First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on Winchester Avenue; Summit Church of the Nazarene, the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton; and the Dollar Tree in Russell.
Donations at the Dollar Tree have already surpassed 100 pounds. Walmart donated a $100 gift card Hannah used to buy food for the drive.
Hannah said he has no qualms about walking into stores he has never been into and asking for donations.
“I would never do that for myself, but if it’s for a good cause, I don’t mind asking others for help,” Hannah said. “I get turned down a lot, but that’s the worst than can happen. I also get donations that I would have never gotten if I hadn’t asked. People who know me know I am not shy and I have never been afraid to speak up.”
JOHN CANNON can be reached at