TYLER - Most of the time, service projects that students take part in are educational, but not overly competitive. For Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School students, though, one community project is becoming an annual competition.
With every product being awarded a specific amount of points, students in grades 9-12 have been challenged to bring in the most food and non-perishable items they can between Oct. 3-25. Donations are then divided up between the Tyler Food Shelf and the Tyler Box Project.
"The bigger the rivalry, the better for the community," said junior Shane Vogt, whose class won the competition last year as sophomores.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Each class at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School is competing for a trip to the Mall of America in collaboration with collecting food and non-perishable items for an annual service project. Shown with some of the food gathered so far are Maria Weber, Sam Brust, DeLani Jorgensen, Krista Johnson, Allison Pochardt, Megan Williams, Kole Vogt, Brandon Fritz and Shane Vogt. While the community is the real winner, the top class will be determined today.
Junior Megan Williams doesn't mind doing her part to help the project.
"I think it's very cool," she said. "We get to help the community."
Along with Barb Houck, RTR teacher Kitsie Carr helps organize the event, which officially ended at 12:28 Tuesday.
"We're really proud of the students and their initiative to gather food," Carr said.
While members of the community are the real winners, a year ago, the project was revamped to include a bigger prize - a trip to the Mall of America for the winning class.
"It was pretty fun," Shane's twin brother, Kole Vogt, said about the MOA trip a year ago. "It's fun to get to go somewhere and not have teachers all around. You get to do your own thing."
The 2011 MOA trip is set for Nov. 2 and is partially funded by a grant written by RTR Superintendent Bruce Houck.
"The bus ride is funded and some of the money is used for ride tickets," Carr said.
A total of 35,930 points was raised in 2010, topped by the sophomores (14,000 points), freshmen (11,000) and seniors (8,000). The juniors have high expectations again this year.
"We have to win every year," junior Brandon Fritz said. "We won as freshmen, too."
But standing in their way is a very competitive sophomore class, who don't want to be runner-up for a second straight year.
"It was very neck and neck last year," sophomore Anna Madsen said.
Another sophomore, Maria Weber, said it was disappointing to come so close to winning a year ago.
"But it makes it that much more important this year," she said, noting that last year, no one could drive.
Along with Madsen and Weber, Sam Brust helps collect and transport the items their classmates bring in each week.
"It's hard to get a full class effort," Brust said. "Last year, we mostly brought stuff from our cupboards. But this year, we've asked people for donations. We try to think of anything we can to help our community."
Last year, Shane Vogt said his class had a solid plan.
"We had people in class donate money and then we went shopping," he said.
Carr said that students have been hitting the area grocery stores hard again this time.
"The kids have been checking flyers," Carr said. "They're also asking businesses to let them pay at cost."
Students reported many positive experiences while shopping in their communities.
"People have thanked us," Weber said.
Totals are expected to be higher this year.
"We only had two weeks last year," Fritz said. "This year, we have three."
Weekly class winners have been rewarded with candy.
"The second week winner was decided by 15 points," Carr said. "The sophomores won by a can of tuna."
Top items, like cereal, diapers, box dinners and juice, are worth 20 points, while Spam, peanut butter and other canned meats are worth 15. A box of Kleenex is worth five points.
"Every time we've gone shopping, people ask us what we're doing," Fritz said.
This year, the junior class is trying a new strategy, by hoarding their food elsewhere until the final day. Some, like junior Allison Pochardt, even have support from parents.
"Allison's mom is the coupon guru," Carr said. "She found tuna for 12 cents with a coupon."
Before the last week, the juniors had recorded 4,895 points worth of items. In the second week alone, the sophomores compiled 3,660 points.
"We collect ours and put it in the security vault," Weber said.
At the end of each week, food is brought to Room 202.
"The last days are pretty chaotic, with people bringing in food and asking about points," Carr said.
The official count will be determined today. Afterward, volunteer members of the RTR Student Council, honor society and a resource group will transport the goods and sort them along with items collected by participating church groups.
"We bring the items down to The Rock," Kole Vogt said. "They have a food shelf there. We separate the items out, depending on how many adults and children there are in each home."
Students who drive then go deliver the food to different houses in town.
"It makes you feel good after doing that," Brust said.
For some of the students, Carr said, it might be hard to imagine that there are people who don't have enough to eat or that aren't able to pay their bills.
"They get to see where the food is going," she said. "They get to put a face and a family to their efforts. It makes it more real and the students have more compassion. It's a good project."