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Can by Can: A Man's Legacy


Hunger. A commercial featuring emaciated children in distant third world countries probably comes to mind. This is the unfortunate perception of hunger in the eyes of so many today. However, hunger isn’t always dirty or far away. In fact, according to an early 2017 study by feedingamerica.org, receiving daily bread is a very real issue for one in seven households across Indiana.

In 1982, one man saw the devastating impact of hunger on his community and decided to take action using extra space in his basement. By 1984, the annual Mishawaka High School Food Drive was born.

Mr. John Manuszak has been described as an exceptionally kind, generous, and helpful man by his former Mishawaka High School (MHS) students and colleagues. A long history of sympathetic deeds performed by Manuszak could be unearthed. However, the most ambitious and eminent of these took-off in 1984. Today, it is known as one of the biggest events, not only during the MHS school year, but for the entire School City of Mishawaka School Corporation.

Imagine it. Dusty boxes stacked up high in the back of a science room with canned goods littering the lab stations. At its very start, the MHS food drive was a rather informal event. Students leisurely delivered canned goods to Manuszak’s classroom all the way up on the third floor. Some more charitable, or perhaps simply bored, kids wished to become further involved, and even offered up study halls to sort cans and divvy donations.

According to MHS AllTold archives, Manuszak’s efforts blossomed into a successful endeavor. That very first year students compiled between eight to ten thousand cans and raised over $1,800. Students were also said to bring in hams, eggs, milk, and homemade treats to donate. One former student, MHS Mishawaka Education Center teacher Debbie Shively, recalled even stealing a turkey from home to give away. About 75 families each received between $35 to $40 worth of food that year.

Confidentiality is and always has been a major aspect of the affair. The families’ identities are ultimately kept secret from the student body out of respect. In the beginning, Manuszak hand delivered the perfectly proportioned boxes to each home to ensure discretion. However, as the project grew, donations became too vast for one man.

Through the years, Manuszak continued to nurture his ambition and expand his program. According to Shively, Manuszak even sang over the school’s PA system in order to raise enough money to accommodate the growth in his project. Student participation became a vital ingredient in the annual food drive. Students, sports teams, clubs, families, and staff have made it a tradition to donate their time, money, and/or goods to the cause for over three decades.

Students and staff alike urged others to get involved. 1993 MHS graduate and current MHS science teacher Gregg Smith said that students should “absolutely” get involved because “the spirit of giving brings people together.” MHS junior and former student council representative Lauren Raven said, “Anyone who can help out should because it’s a great cause that directly benefits our peers and also, it looks great on college applications!”

Past MHS students held the same beliefs. The Dec. 1986 MHS AllTold included a front page article titled Students Help Mishawaka’s Needy. It described the increase in student participation and the positive attitude students have towards participation in food drive. Another 2002 AllTold article had virtually the same remarks concerning student involvement. Through and through, students and staff have had a plethora of positive experiences to share about their involvement in the event.


In fact, the drive has received more average donations in recent years than ever before. Preparation has become no easy feat. It is arguably the most difficult aspect of the momentous occasion. All the donations must be counted, sorted, and organized on tables the day before. Students are encouraged to volunteer to help set up, aid families with their shopping, hand out food, run the ‘checkout’, and to help carry bags out to families’ cars. This year nearly 150 families have been invited to shop through the MHS cafeteria on Saturday, Dec. 16.


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