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Student drive fights hunger

Kris Sigfrids carries a box of food from Bryant Elementary School to the Salvation Army bus Tuesday outside the school. The students collected more than 1,600 food items during a two-week food drive. The three winning classes each earned a donut party. (Maria Lockwood)

Fifth-graders at Bryant Elementary School moved a mountain of groceries into the Salvation Army van Tuesday.

"This is unbelievable," said Sarah Hanhan, fifth grade teacher. "We've never had this turnout before."

The school's student council, which includes students in grades 3-5, has been holding the annual food collection for years. But it's never been this big. A total of 1,672 items were donated during the two-week food drive, about 200 more than last year.

"Right from the beginning, three days into it, this table was full," said teacher Stacy Homstad, pointing to the table by the front door where the donations were stacked.

"We're just so proud of them," Hanhan said.

The fifth-graders said fellow students were motivated by the grand prize -- a donut party. Teachers said marketing by the student council, including posters, announcements and the visible pile of groceries, also helped. Three classes earned donut parties for collecting the largest number of donations. Hanhan's class collected 347 items to earn the top spot. Two kindergarten classes and their teachers, Jennifer Androsky and Meghan Marthaler, will also be treated to donuts.

Despite the chilly weather, students trekked back and forth Tuesday, setting boxes of food into the van. While they pushed, pulled and lifted, each one wore a smile. That excitement is what it's all about, said Dori Stepan, food shelf director for the Salvation Army. She took the time to thank the students.

"This will feed a lot of families," Stepan said.

After picking up food at Bryant, she drove to Northern Lights Elementary School for another donation. Third grade students in Mary Zastrow's class collected 600 items for the food shelf during a weeklong food drive.

The donations were appreciated, as the food shelf was running low on items. On an average day, they serve about 30 families, Stepan said, but last Thursday and Friday they served 75 families per day.

"I tell people every can helps," she said.

Although the school food drives have closed down, the Salvation Army accepts food donations year round. And all three Super One Foods stores have barrels where people can drop to collect food for the Salvation Army. The most needed items are peanut butter, tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, and cereal. The food shelf is open 103 p.m. weekdays at 916 Hughitt Ave.