Food Ball 2020 was a win for both Aberdeen and Hoquiam high schools, with the students working as a team for the first time in the event’s 39-year history.
As of Monday’s official weigh-in, they had collected $65,491.25 plus 1,487 pounds of food for local food banks this season. That’s the combined equivalent of about 656,400 pounds of food, based on the coordinators’ calculations.
While that was by no means a record haul, everyone involved agreed that it was an impressive effort given the social restrictions and widespread belt-tightening brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The fact that they decided to go ahead and still hold the event — this says a lot about those that put in the time and effort to plan and organize,” said Brent Hunter, executive director of Coastal Harvest, the region’s nonprofit food bank hub. “You have a combined team of all-stars that recognized the importance of helping feed people in need — especially now.”
Food Ball advisers Katie Barr of HHS and Ashley Kohlmeier of AHS said the decision to collaborate instead of compete was a “no-brainer” under the circumstances.
The possibility had been discussed at AHS even before the pandemic hit, Barr said, because the competitive element sometimes put too much pressure on students for a community service project. And teamwork seemed an even better idea given this year’s events.
“Our students care about the people in need, and they care about the fact that this season has been really revealing of how many folks have been affected by the COVID restrictions,” said Barr.
Hoquiam’s crew felt the same way.
“Katie and I met via Zoom early this fall and, to be honest, the conversation was pretty quick,” said Kohlmeier. “Everybody was on board right away to collaborate this year. So there wasn’t much discussion or debate about that; it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
So, with that decision made, the next step was figuring out how to handle this year’s effort.
Health concerns restricted the students from handling donated items, and their annual community outreach events were out of the question: restaurant takeovers, grocery store solicitations, going door-to-door. This required them to come up with a completely different approach.
“We joined our ASB groups several times via Zoom so they could share ideas with each other and decide how this was going to work,” said Kohlmeier.
The student leaders were Emiley Elders, Emily Daniels, Amelia Moir, Katie Burnett, Tauni Hilliard and Ainsley Estes of Hoquiam; and Jimmy Boora, Lauren King, Anna Weber, Brooke Solan, Jordan Braegelmann, Elizabeth Martinez and Emma Green of Aberdeen.
For starters, the team agreed to shift focus from food to financial donations for this year.
“We created some virtual events and coordinated our efforts so that we were calling businesses, asking for donations and explaining the differences this year,” said Kohlmeier. “So that’s really where (the students’) work came in.”
Rather than asking businesses to help their hometown high school win a competition, the students said something along the lines of: “If you’d like to give, we’d appreciate it; but if you can’t, we understand.”
“There was a lot of grace there,” said Barr. “We’re so grateful for the numbers we got.”
To allow for some actual food donations, Coastal Harvest arranged to place and later pick up food bins at the Harbor’s Safeway, Swanson’s and Grocery Outlet stores.
“Essentially, they cut out the middleman,” laughed Kohlmeier, “because that’s where the food would have gone anyway.”
To make monetary giving easier for community members, an online portal was set up through both district websites for people to use their debit and credit cards. The portal remained open through Thursday, so this past week’s donations had not yet been added to the final tally at this writing.
In addition, Kohlmeier said, “We’ve still got checks coming in the mail, and we are certainly not turning that money away!”
Coastal Harvest receives and distributes all of the food collected each year. The nonprofit also gets a small stipend from the funds raised to cover its costs for transporting and distributing the donated food, Barr noted.
The rest of the money is distributed at the schools’ discretion to appropriate local agencies. This year, AHS’ half will be donated to the Aberdeen Food Bank and the Salvation Army food bank in Aberdeen. Hoquiam’s will go primarily to the Hoquiam and Humptulips food banks, with a small percentage set aside for the district’s “Backpack” program.
“Obviously, we did not bring in the numbers and the weights we have for the past four or five years,” said Kohlmeier. “But I am super pleased with our total. I think it went just as well as it could.”
This year’s endeavor also revealed some additional justification for the idea of carrying this method forward even after the COVID-19 threat is quashed.
“One of the things we’ve found in our collaboration is that a lot of our kids have some similar ‘giftings’ and talents and ideas,” said Barr. “And having that creative front together, I think, created a lot of strengths.”
Kohlmeier agreed. “I feel this has been a very pleasant working experience,” she said. “It has led to conversations about future collaborations on other projects.”
Barr said community feedback on this year’s Food Ball approach has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Of course you have some who are used to the tradition of the competition,” she said. “But then we have others who think: ‘What an amazing community we have, and look at us rally all together!’”