Saturday, Oct. 7, was a busy day for Quad-City high school students involved in the 2017 Student Hunger Drive.
First, students from several of this year's participating schools joined forces to sponsor a mobile food pantry at Wood Intermediate School in northern Davenport.
Held during an intermittent rain, students teamed up to help shoppers load grocery carts with food, wheel the carts outdoors and transfer items into waiting vehicles.
"This is great! I've never done this before," Lisa McWilliams said. The Davenport resident shopped at the pantry for the first time with her daughter's family, and said she especially appreciated the student services because of pain in her back.
"I'm glad I came," she said.
After a two-hour stint at the food pantry, about two dozen students from Bettendorf High School fanned out in neighborhoods to collect food.
In one carload, Keely Dysktra drove her daughter, junior Alli Dykstra, and son, freshman Nick Dykstra. Junior Sarah Canfield and freshman Aiden Broderick rode along.
The students unloaded near Hoover Elementary School and patiently began knocking at each home.
"The first couple of houses, and you're really nervous," Sarah said to Aiden. "After that it gets easier. Most people are really generous. It's kind of amazing."
Sarah and Aiden tried several houses on Tam O'Shanter Drive, leaving flyers in places where no one answered the door. Finally, they reached the home of Mary Cribbs and Sarah explained about her request.
"I'll grab something. Can you hold on for a second?" Cribbs handed the students several cans of soup, which they loaded in a wagon pulled by Nick Dykstra. As they passed each block, they made a note of the houses they had visited.
The students were in a four-hour project; they would unload food at the high school at the halfway point and then head out for another two hours.
The Bettendorf students are examples of how students actually collect the food items.
In addition to door-to-door activities, there are numerous food-gathering events conceived over the past three decades. On Nov. 1 at Davenport Central High School, for example, students will sponsor the Disney movie, "Moana," in the new Performing Arts Center; the entry fee is $3, or six cans of food.
The Student Hunger Drive began in 1986, originally an initiative of Lujack's NorthPark Auto Plaza and the Pete Pohlmann family.
The Lujack's KIIK Hunger Drive that year ran from just before Thanksgiving to nearly Christmas, and 28,000 pounds were collected by students from 11 Quad-City high schools.
In 2016, a total of 387,461 pounds collected by students from 16 area high schools. It was not a record — not by a long shot — but did include the most healthy food collected in years, said Mike Miller, president and CEO of the River Bend Foodbank, Davenport.
As Miller, and Liz Treiber, executive director of the Student Hunger Drive explain it, students were going to extremes to record the most weight per high school. Items, for example, would include 50-pound bags of flour, and a large truckload of Kool-Aid mix.
In the last few years, the students have been challenged to collect non-perishable "food they'd like to eat," Treiber said.
Miller tells students to think about what a hungry classmate would want to eat. For the first time some rules were made, such as a combined 1,000 pounds of flour and sugar per school.
Folks receiving the food items are hard-working and stressed, Treiber said. They don't have much time to cook for their families, and some don't know how to bake, such as with huge bags of flour.
Schools receive guidelines, including a list of the most needed foods, and other suggestions, Treiber said.
"That's made a difference," she said.
In 2001 the Student Hunger Drive tallied more than 1 million pounds of food, which included 23,423 pounds from corporate sponsors. In those days, Miller said, the food bank was located in Moline, and the drive sustained the overall effort for more than one-third of the year since the food bank distributed about 3 million pounds of food in total.
Support for hunger relief has broadened across the Quad-Cities, Miller said. Now, corporations and others contribute to River Bend all year round as the food bank provides for 12 million meals in a 22-country area.
The food bank quit using corporate sponsors during the Student Hunger Drive two years ago, Miller said. That's to space out giving, all year round.
River Bend has had tremendous growth since Miller arrived in January 2015: It's up 65 percent in two years. "The community still supports the Student Hunger Drive, but the community now supports hunger relief all year round," he said.
The Student Hunger Drive gives youth in the Quad-Cities a philanthropic opportunity in a formative time of life. "It has tremendous value, plus the food," Miller said.