Stuff the Bus feeds bellies, hearts

Students of Camas, Washougal schools celebrate generosity

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Hunger is not a game. Ending hunger can be a competition, though.

Students across Camas and Washougal are busy collecting food for the Camas Washougal Business Alliance’s fourth annual Stuff the Bus promotion, which provides meals through the holidays for hundreds of families in each city.

The school district that collects the most food compared to the previous year will be crowned the contest’s winner. Students from both districts say their primary motivation is not beating their neighboring town, but rather helping others.

The two districts combined to collect more than 71,000 pounds, or nearly 36 tons, of food last year, said Tabitha Shaffer, treasurer with the Camas Washougal Business Alliance.

Each district’s collections will be placed on school buses and weighed Friday at Exterior Wood in Washougal. Each school will pack three or four buses with food, Shaffer predicted.

Food and refreshments will be served at the weigh-in and the winner’s trophy will be presented to the high school whose district increased its food output the most from 2010.

The donated food will be split between the Camas Fire Department’s Christmas Activities Relief Organization Limited (Carol) Program, the Inter-Faith Treasure House in Camas and the Children’s Home Society in Washougal.

You can participate in Stuff the Bus by dropping off canned goods and other nonperishable items at any one of Camas or Washougal’s elementary, middle or high schools. You can also donate money at http://cwbusinessalliance.com.

Stuff the Bus’ benefits to the community are two-fold, Shaffer said. It provides food to those in

the community who need it and it teaches students the value of helping others.

“The kids are learning to give back to the community,” Shaffer said. “Because they are all involved, it is very successful.”

The impact of the students’ work is often visible in recipients’ faces, Washougal High senior Kristin Peterson said. Peterson, the public relations officer for Washougal High’s student government, has worked on Stuff the Bus since her freshman year.

“I just remember this lady getting on the bus and breaking down,” the 17-year-old said of a worker with the Children’s Home Society. “She fed all her families for a year.”

The Children’s Home Society fed 388 families with food from Stuff the Bus during its 2010-2011 fiscal year, said Renee Law, family center lead for the East County Family Resources Center in Washougal. The center receives donations from churches and local residents, but the majority of its food comes from the Stuff the Bus program, she added.

The Children’s Home Society will need volunteers to un-stuff the buses starting at 3 p.m. Friday at the Family Resource Center, 1702 C St. in Washougal, Law said.

The Camas and Washougal fire departments will give away four boxes of food to 75 families in each of their communities, courtesy of Stuff the Bus participants. The families will also receive toys.

The boxes, which include both Christmas dinner fixings and canned goods, are expected to last the families several weeks, said Brooks Cooper, the chairman of the Carol Program and a captain with the Camas Fire Department.

Camas and East County fire departments have participated in the Carol Program for 50 years. The Stuff the Bus program allowed the Carol Program to extend into Washougal for the first time.

“The only way we could have done it was through Stuff the Bus,” Cooper said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had enough donations.”

Students are more than happy to help out.

Camas High senior Jake Hanna and his classmates have sought the help of local grocers to increase their food donation output. Their Washougal allies and challengers have done the same. Students from both districts have collected food since November.

“For me this is the biggest way I can help my community,” said Hanna, 17, the senior class vice president. “I can go out and pass out food, but to work for two months … that’s just huge, I can say I was part of that.”

“The competition is not the biggest part, but it helps,” Hanna added.

Washougal High students also downplayed the competition aspect.

“We’re a really small school and this makes us feel like we’re doing a really big thing,” said Alexa Eddy, a 17-year-old junior at Washougal High, who is spearheading the school’s Stuff the Bus efforts. Working on the Stuff the Bus program “opened her eyes” about how fortunate she is this holiday season, she added.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend;http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.