Can the Office Ladies contest brings in nearly 1,000 items

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Gaston High School students Kasey Cookston, Amber Meeks and Chris Waters with some of the nearly 1,000 cans collected for the Oregon Food Bank last month in a class competition.“Can the Principal” has become “Can the Office Ladies” — but in both cases, a holiday-centric event in Gaston is all in good fun and for a great cause.

Because of the annual competition between freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors at Gaston High School, at least 73 families in the farthest western reaches of Washington County won’t go hungry this month, said Lori Reed, who operates the Wapato Valley Church chapter of the Oregon Food Bank.

“I went over there and picked up 957 pounds of food today,” Reed said Friday afternoon. “It’s exciting to see the kids really get into the spirit of this.”

What started off years ago as “Can the Principal,” an event in which students tried to fill Principal Mike Durbin’s office with cans of food for the needy, has become “Can the Office Ladies” for better advertising, noted Jennifer Oberg, advisor to the Gaston Associated Student Body leadership group.

“Not a lot of people saw Mr. Durbin’s office, so we switched it to the front office,” Oberg said. “It’s definitely a conversation piece anytime someone walks into the office and sees the stacks and stacks of cans … whether it’s parents or visitors.”

This year, the students’ holiday food drive kicked off Nov. 1. “We set a goal to collect 500 items by Nov. 30, and boy, did our students rise to the challenge,” Oberg said. “Not only did we meet our goal, we blew it out of the park.”

A little healthy competition was the catalyst.

“This was a school-wide class contest, and members of the ASB made daily announcements (that included) facts about hunger and the need (for food) in our local community,” said Oberg. “They also kept a daily total between classes and announced each morning which class was in the lead, which really kicked the competition into high gear.”

When the seniors heard they weren’t in first place, she said, food started rolling in by the box-loads.

“The day before our competition ended, we announced that it was still anybody’s race to win,” said Oberg. “The final day, as we were counting our totals, we determined that the previous count was 700 cans of food — and we ended up just under 1,000 cans.

“The kids brought in 284 cans overnight.”

'Pretty big jump'

That was music to Lori Reed’s ears.

“The high school does this every year, and it’s always a great effort by them,” Reed said, adding that the church is a partner agency of the statewide food bank. Food collections are also supported by the Gaston Market and the local Knights of Pythias chapter.

Since 2010, when the Great Recession was in full swing, the number of families requesting help from the food bank has risen appreciably, noted Reed.

“In 2006, we’d have 50-some families asking for assistance each month,” she said. “But we saw a pretty big jump from 2010 to 2011, up to more than 80 families.

"Now we’re staying pretty steady at 73 families a month.”

Wapato Valley Church’s service area includes Gaston, Cherry Grove, Laurelwood and parts of Forest Grove. “The winter months are our busiest,” Reed said.

People need only sign a statement saying their income level is below the guidelines for the Oregon Food Bank’s assistance program in order to receive a box of groceries, which typically contains canned goods and other non-perishables.

Oberg said she was inspired by the students’ willingness to help.

“This food will be delivered directly to the shelves to immediately start serving the Gaston community,” she noted. “This has been our best canned food drive ever — I am so proud of our small school community of 231 students.”

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