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Record year for food drive

Hanah Smyklski, left, and Brecken Paulus of Northwestern High School put together a box of fixings for a Thanksgiving meal for a family after a record year for the annual food drive at Northwestern middle and high schools. (Maria Lockwood)

A record year for Northwestern High School students equals more full bellies in Douglas County.

Members of the school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America group have been holding an annual Thanksgiving food drive for more than a decade.

Last week, they trucked 37 boxes full of holiday food to Peace Lutheran Church in Poplar, more than they’ve ever collected.

The FCCLA students contributed three boxes of Thanksgiving meal fixings; the rest were filled by homerooms, classes, staff, organizations and clubs from Northwestern middle and high schools. Each box came packed with a list of specific holiday foods.

"Everybody did a basket that could and if they couldn’t then we combined them," said FCCLA adviser Kathy Lahti. "We have gotten such support from a lot of the teachers and students, the staff … the cooks do a basket every year."

She credits past food drives for the record haul.

"These kids have been doing this for 12 years," Lahti said. "So they started at the middle school, they just kind of think that they’re supposed to and I think that’s gotten to be a nice thing."

Eight boxes were donated the first year of the food drive, and Lahti was given the awkward task of finding people who could use them. Ever since, they’ve brought the bounty to the Rural Care and Share Food Shelf. The boxes are split between the Poplar and Iron River sites, a bonus to go with the monthly distribution.

It came at a good time. Numbers at the food shelf rise to about 70 families in Poplar and 80 families in Iron River over the holidays.

"Usually in November we get more because people are planning for Thanksgiving and they know they’re going to get baskets," said Barb High with the Rural Care and Share Food Shelf.

Those numbers surprised FCCLA President Brecken Paulus, a senior.

"I just feel like the numbers would be lower," she said. "That’s kind of what drives me to want to do more because you don’t realize how many families are in need."

A special keepsake was delivered along with the boxes. Each held an engraved carving board, created by students in Joe Letko’s technology education class at Northwestern High School.

"They’re really nice; they’re gorgeous," Lahti said.

The food drive is a thank you to the community for all their support, she said. It’s also a lesson in giving.

"I just feel like it’s good for the students to get involved and help with the community," Paulus said. "For FCCLA, I always do a project and I always want to contribute to the community and give back, and I feel like this is a good way to introduce it to incoming freshmen."

Lahti said the majority of projects FCCLA students take on each year focus on community service, from random acts of kindness to sewing soft, heart-shaped pillows for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The group has already volunteered at a Special Olympics bowling event this school year. Students plan to ring bells for the Salvation Army and bring their Christmas Tea extras to Solid Rock Mission.

"They’ve been doing a nice job giving back," Lahti said.