Four pick-up trucks piled with canned and boxed food formed a convoy from Great Bend High School to the Barton County Food Bank Friday afternoon.
Students from GBHS helped food bank volunteers load the over 8,000 items onto the trucks and unload them onto folding tables so they could be sorted. Vegetables were stacked on one table, sauces on another, pastas on another and meats on another.
It was the largest food drive since the food bank opened its doors in 1984.
"We are so overwhelmed," the bank’s Bob Essmiller said to GBHS Principal Tim Friess. "Thank you."
"The kids really came through," Friess said.
The high school food drive was a project of the GBHS National Honor Society which challenged each class and the staff to a contest to see which could collect the most. The seniors won with 4,152, the juniors were second with 1,154, the sophomore were third with 1,110 and the freshmen were fourth with 895. The staff came up with 753.
This marked the second year for the drive and it is picking up momentum, said NHS advisor Crystal Cross. "We’re really proud of the kids."
Last year, it was the junior class that finished first. This year, those juniors as seniors claimed the title.
The 2009 goal was 5,000 items and nearly 8,000 were collected. So, they upped the goal to 7,000. The total as of Friday afternoon was 8,064.
"We still have stuff coming in," Cross said. In addition, $500 in cash was raised.
On Thursday, the total stood at 2,400. So, Cross said, the students went out and canvassed. "They really rose to the occasion."
One change this year is a new group of NHS students, known as the Circle of Friends, involved the school’s special-needs students in the effort. Circle of Friends members plan monthly activities for these students.
The drive has a positive impact on GBHS, Cross said. "They see the joy of giving and that it makes you feel good. It brings the kids together, not only as classes, but as a school."
Last month, the food bank served 755 residents, and the numbers are steadily increasing. So, "this was a huge blessing," said Evelyn Essmiller, who along with her husband Bob serve as co-directors of the BCFB.
As the holidays approach, the demand for the bank’s services grows, she said, adding the shelves were starting to look bare in places. But, "the whole mood down here is so positive" with the GBHS students.
"This is so exciting for us," Evelyn said. "The best part is the kids and their enthusiasm." The interaction between the young people and the adults is wonderful.
There was a waiting room full of people at the food bank seeking aid Friday afternoon, with some having to stand outside on the beautiful fall day. They witnessed the volunteer efforts.
But, Evelyn said, it doesn’t stop with one day. After last year’s drive, "the youth continued to volunteer. They became aware of the food bank and that they can help.
"It was quite a day. We’re floating down here," Evelyn said. "Now, the stars are shining on these youth."