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  • Paul Van Nest


Rotarians first hatched the idea in the early 1960s to drive around the city selling cans of peanuts door-to-door as a club fundraiser. In the first few years, thanks to help from spouses and friends, the event raised about $3,000. However, the Nut Drive received a major boost when Rotarian and Queen’s Padre, Marsh Laverty, connected Rotary with the Queen’s Engineering Society. Engineering frosh were recruited during orientation week to “Go Nuts!” The students provided much needed people-power to cover the city and knock on endless doors, being transported to their routes by Rotarians and Friends of Rotary.

The Rotary Nut Drive continues to be one of the city’s most recognizable fundraisers. When young people with purple skin and oatmeal- sculpted hairdos knock on doors the first week of September, it’s pretty much a given why they’re there. This annual event now nets about $20,000, which is allocated to the four Kingston clubs and clubs in Napanee and Gananoque. The product has switched from cans of peanuts to chocolate covered almonds because chocolate makes everything taste better!

The Nut Drive Committee works with the City of Kingston to map out 100 routes across the region. Second year engineering students (FRECs) take on the leadership role of organizing the frosh, continuing the tradition that they were subjected to the year before. Volunteer drivers pick-up 400 frosh and head out for a couple of hours to knock on as many doors as possible. To publicize the event, local radio and TV stations graciously help with promotions and Rotarians (individuals and businesses) sponsor a full-page ad in the Kingston Whig-Standard and Kingston-This-Week to alert the community that “We’re coming”.

The Rotary Nut Drive has evolved into something much more than a fundraiser. The event is often the students’ first introduction to Kingston away from campus. They spend time with the volunteer drivers who chat with them about the city and, of course, Rotary. The students recognize that giving back to the community is the basis for this event and they are encouraged to consider checking out the Queen’s Rotaract Club.

Kingstonians continue to support Rotary and this 55+ year fundraiser. But perhaps the biggest impact is for students who are greeted warmly at the door. In fact, some selling time is frequently lost because residents and students start chatting. This type of welcome truly helps build connections between the community and Queen’s students and starts the school year off in such a positive way.

Covid-19 put the brakes on the Rotary Nut Drive in 2020, and will again in 2021, but for last September, a bunch of engineering frosh rose to the challenge to build Go Nuts Machines. The task was to create Rube Goldberg contraptions from the comfort of their homes. The students recorded their efforts, and the videos were placed online for the public to see and vote on at a cost of $2 per vote. It was great to see how creative minds came together in the name of Rotary. What will happen this year?

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