Buses arrived at La Center schools Tuesday morning, but the kids didn’t board them. Instead, students loaded the school buses with thousands of pounds of food they collected.
It’s an event the schools hold every year called Stuff the Bus, and it’s been going on long enough that staff have forgotten how many years back it started.
The schools drop off the food donations, collected by children over a week, at the Clark County Food Bank and other organizations. This year, FISH’s food pantry in downtown Vancouver received a delivery for the first time.
La Center Middle School sent its bus, a white van dubbed the Big Whale by students, full of donations to FISH. The students competed to see which class could earn the most points — the more protein an item contains, the more points it’s worth — to win a hot chocolate party.
The idea came from 12-year-old Chloe Daarud, a seventh-grader at the middle school who donated her birthday money two years ago to the nonprofit. At the time, board members were so inspired by her $50 donation that they all agreed to match it — raising about $1,000.
“I wanted to donate to a good cause,” Chloe said.
When her leadership class was deciding where to donate the food from Stuff the Bus, Chloe remembered FISH.
“We wouldn’t have been getting the food if it weren’t for Chloe,” said James Fitzgerald, executive director of FISH, which is short for Friends in Service to Humanity.
The organization needs the food, he said. As FISH staff unloaded the food, about 40 people waited in line for the food pantry. Fitzgerald said some people arrive two hours before the pantry opens.
FISH serves between 150 and 190 families a day, Fitzgerald said, but it didn’t used to be like that.
In March, a pandemic-era program that increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits ended, leaving people with about $90 less a month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“We’ve gained 40 to 50 families every day since those cuts were made,” Fitzgerald said.
The Big Whale delivered 1,200 pounds of food just from the middle school, according to FISH. The other school bus, filled by the elementary school and middle school, contained even more food.
In 2021, the schools stuffed their buses with more than 7,000 pounds of food, according to Tami Karchesky, a counselor at La Center Elementary School who helped put on the event.
“It’s a great thing that our kids can get involved in. I love that they get so excited about it, and it’s a great opportunity for them to give back to the community,” Karchesky said.
The elementary school focuses on different themes each month. This month’s theme: gratitude.
“It’s a way to show our appreciation and give back to the community,” Karchesky said.
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