Elk Ridge drive fills food bank shelves

What a day Feb. 3 was for Elk Ridge Elementary School students – it had all the makings of a Dr. Suess book.

Second-grade teacher Lori Schmidt dressed up like Santa Claus. The office staff danced the Macarana.

Teachers AnneMarie Allpress and Bethany Ellis were wearing superhero outfits, Spiderman to be specific, and reading poetry.

Second-grade teacher Steve Burdick fed his students cookies.

Kindergartners and Katherine Van de Vord’s students came to school in pajamas.

The Lighthouse students watched a movie and ate popcorn.

Fourth-grade teacher Michelle Simonson was replaced with a giant chicken which to the joy of students during an assembly flapped her feathers to the “chicken dance.”

And the topper on the day was when student Kai McKorkle threw a pie in Principal Christi Ellenwood’s face, right in front of everyone – and he didn’t get in trouble.

What in the world was happening at Elk Ridge Elementary?

All the silliness was part of a serious undertaking. During the month of January, Elk Ridge students collected food to help the community. Each class set a goal and worked toward that goal all month.

During the assembly, the student body lined the gymnasium stage steps with more than 3,700 items, well past their goal. They also raised $150 and turned it all over to Buckley Kiwanis member and food bank volunteer Rose Clark, who thanked them for their effort, explained what will happen to their donations now, and marveled at how much food they collected. She sent two trucks to pick up all the donations the next day.

Ellenwood, who sweetened the pot by taking a pie, knew her part would be good incentive.

“It was a thank you to them for working hard,” she said. She said it also kept the students excited about the drive. There was constant chatter around the school about how much was being collected and what kind of pie Ellenwood would get and, most importantly, there was a lot of conversation about why they were collecting the food and how it would help families in the community.

Each month a White River school collects food for the food drive to keep it supplied. Ellenwood, who is new to Elk Ridge but not new to the district, knew January would be her month.

“I know January is always a tough month,” she said. “I knew January would be a really important month and we talked about the importance of January.”

January is a tough month for food banks everywhere. November and December, thanks to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, are prime months for donations.But by January the interest in helping neighbors in need wanes.

Clark said the school food drives help. The Buckley Food Bank’s leanest times are July, August and September.

“Generally speaking, the summer months are harder for us,” she said.

“The schools play a big role,” she said. “I’ve never figured out how many items the schools donate over the course of the year, but it’s a lot. We are experiencing more people coming in like everyone else, fortunately the community donations have kept pace. I think that’s an advantage of living in a community that has a community center. We are very fortunate that way, here on Plateau people are very generous.”

Although Ellenwood’s pie in the face was a driver and many classes had incentives for making their goals like ice cream parties, movie days and special projects, Jill Jirava’s third-grader students and the fifth-grader students in Arnie Jacobsen’s class decided to collect simply for the purpose of helping others.

The students definitely had fun seeing Simonson dressed as a chicken. They collected more than 200 items for the privilege.

Several students wrote about the experience. Sylvia Berndt wrote, “When Mrs. Simonson a fourth-grade teacher was in the chicken suite she did a chicken dance. That made the whole school laugh. One of her students even said, ‘this is a day that I will never forget.’”