By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Doorbells rang throughout town Tuesday evening.

Those answering heard the familiar chant, "Trick or treat," but that wasn't the end of it.

The visitors were asking for food donations "so others can eat."

Volunteers canvassed Hays collecting food for the Community Assistance Center.

The collection was started in 1985 as Connie Haselhorst's (then Connie Smith) DECA project at Hays High School, said Shaina Prough, DECA adviser. It's grown to include 28 groups of volunteers from Hays High, Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups and even businesses such as Sunflower Bank.

Rainy weather doesn't stop the collection, but "a couple of years ago we got to the CAC and there had been a bomb threat downtown," Prough said.

This is Prough's 15th year overseeing the project, and her whole family, even her 4-year-old, participate in the "Prough family ordeal," she said with a laugh.

Melinda Cross, Hays High student council co-sponsor, has helped collect food for 15 years.

"It gives the kids a chance to do a service project," she said.

Sydney Vahling, a Hays High senior and Stuco member, has participated for four years.

"It's nice to give back. It's easy to do, and doesn't take much time," she said.

Some residents left bags of food on porches. Others, such as Mavis Pianalto, didn't know about the food drive but contributed canned goods from her pantry.

"It's a good idea," she said of the young people collecting for the CAC. "They need to learn about service projects."

Her neighbor Cassie Hickel agreed.

"It's an awesome idea. This is a perfect time," she said. "It's trick or treat."

The goal for the food drive was 12,000 items, and Theresa Hill, co-director of CAC, was happy to see the food.

The shelves were getting pretty bare, she said.

Approximately 55 volunteers work at the center, which has been open for 30 years. It serves 5,500 individuals a year and makes up 70 to 100 food boxes a month. CAC patrons can get food four times in a 12-month period, Hill said.

"This will get us through until the next food drive in May," Hill said.

To receive assistance, one must be an Ellis County resident and meet the state income guidelines even though the center gets no state aid. It operates completely on donations, she said.

On Tuesday night, some volunteers at the center unpacked the bags filled with food items while others marked through the bar code so they couldn't be sold. Then the food was sorted into shopping carts marked soup, vegetables, spaghetti sauce, canned meat and so on. When the carts were full, they were wheeled into the pantry and the items stacked on shelves. Anyone who might have been missed the food drive can bring items to the center. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.