In only two weeks time, students and staff at Diamond Fork Junior High nearly doubled their goal of collecting 25,000 donated items during the school’s annual food drive.

Piled high in drama teacher Kara Poulsen’s classroom were bags of Malt-O-Meal, packages of Ramen noodles, cans of chicken, vegetables and beans, and an occasional bottle of water. Stray toothbrushes, rolls of toilet paper and small jars of baby food lined the pile’s edges.

After the final count, the food drive had brought in 49,276 food and hygiene items as well as $4,020, said Scott Buck, advisor of the school’s Character of Education Student Council.

For nearly 20 years, the school has hosted its annual food drive as a way to benefit The Utah Food and Care Coalition in Provo and Tabitha’s Way in Spanish Fork.

This year, fifth-period classes competed with each other to see which class could donate the most food items.

“The competition … becomes intense, with many highly-competitive classes trash talking their opponents -- all in good fun, of course,” Buck said.

It’s common for one class to challenge another, and this year the girl’s PE class challenged the boy’s P.E. class to out-donate them, he said.

“If the boys lose they have to wear pink ballet tutus for a day,” Buck said. “Since the girls are currently 3,000 food items ahead of the boys, they are already searching for 45 large pink tutus.”

According to Alesha Lemmon, the school’s dean of students, “smack talk” isn’t just reserved for the students. Teachers good-naturedly competed as well, some hoarding food items to make a big reveal on the final day’s count.

She said she’s been impressed with the students who continue to bring in donations despite their own classes not being in the running for first or second place.

Last year the food drive packed the pantry shelves of Tabitha’s Way with nearly 25,000 food items, Lemmon said. Within a few months the shelves were bare.

“There’s a big need,” Lemmon said. “We’re doing our best to fill it.”

Tabitha’s Way is a nonprofit mercy ministry with a thrift store and food pantry. According to its founder and director, the food bank regularly gives out up to 10,000 pounds of food each week.

Food drives like the one put on by Diamond Fork Junior High carry us through spring and summer months, Wendy Osborne said. In the past we’ve ran out of food, so it’s food drives such as this that sustain us, she said.

What’s impressive about Diamond Fork Junior High students is that they use the monetary donations they receive to meet the specific needs of the patrons of Tabitha’s Way, Osborne said. In the past, staff and students have visited the non-profit to see what items were needed most at the time.

Sadie Silvia and Tarlan Kelly, both 12-year-old 7th graders at Diamond Fork Junior High, said the competition has been a fun way to give back. They’ve both brought in food from the pantry in their own homes.

“It’s pretty amazing. These kids are awesome -- they love to give and love the opportunity to serve,” she said. “They’ve wrapped their arms around us. They’re like little food fairies.”

Led by teacher Lorin Binks, the school's special education class -- a group of about 12 students -- collected and donated the most items, Buck said. Other classes were made up of about 35 students.

Keri Lunt Stevens covers Community & Business News in Utah County. Contact her at (801) 344-2556, and on Twitter: @keriinreallife

Keri Lunt Stevens covers Community News in Utah County.

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