Courier Staff Writer
Fewer people might go hungry due to the efforts of nearly every student at Ottumwa High School.
A student body of around 1,000 kids brought more than 11,000 food items to school over the past month.
“There were a couple articles in the paper about how the shelves were empty at the Food Bank [of Southern Iowa],” said Megan Wetrich, a high school teacher who is one of two adult advisors for the Interact Club, a Rotary-sponsored organization for students. “I thought it was a nice project that our club and the whole school could get involved in.”
Interact Club members held a contest to see which class could bring in the most food. One third period class won after they donated 2,000 items. Another third-period class also won when organizers figured out they had brought in an average of 115 items per student.
“The principal and the club came up with the idea,” said Wetrich. “We announced it at a pep assembly, and it took off from there.”
In fact, like other efforts requiring enthusiasm, the project built upon itself. “The more people started bringing stuff, the more excited students got — and the more stuff that came in.”
It helped that they were stacking the food against one wall in the cafeteria — boxes and stacks and piles of it.
“I’d say it was at least 5,000 to 6,000 pounds sitting there,” said Neil Abbott of the Southern Iowa Food Bank. “That was amazing.”
Typically, food bank supporters explain, for the price of a can of green beans, the bank can purchase five pounds of food. Though most members of the public are unaware of that, a few have recently seen how far a cash donation can go due to the low prices the bank pays for items.
When charitable residents stop at the food bank to make a $5 donation, or when shoppers give an extra $5 at the cash register, they are, in a way, buying 70 pounds of food for the needy.
Yet because the shelves at the food bank were bare, Abbott said, this sudden influx of peanut butter, green beans and soup from an unprecedented “can drive” was a real shot in the arm.
“That’s probably the biggest one we ever had,” Abbott said.
Later on Monday, upon weighing the shipment, he found the total was just more than 9,200 pounds of food items.
In fact, they had sent a panel truck to pick up the food at Ottumwa High School around 9 a.m. Monday. The white van backed up to the cafeteria doors, two guys hopped out, came in and looked around.
They had a hushed conversation between themselves and a teacher, then just left.
“We were expecting about a quarter of what they gathered,” Abbott said, adding that his drivers could see right away even the full-sized van wasn’t going to be enough. “It was amazing.”
Monday morning, an OHS staff member asked where the food bank drivers went.
“They had to go get a bigger truck!” called out freshman student Lois Ivey, laughing.
“That was great,” agreed Abbott.