The Lewis and Clark Elementary School holiday food drive has gathered more than a pound of canned goods for every child enrolled.
Two of those students, however, have personally contributed almost their own body weight in donations. Grant Netzer, 10, and Taylor Kaufman, 11, took to the project like elves in a toy factory.
In three afternoons of door-to-door effort, on the steep streets of the South Hills, they filled their red wagons with about 150 pounds' worth.
"It was a huge surprise when they came in with all these bags of food," said Family Resource Center coordinator Karin Schalm. "They came up with the idea on their own."
Lewis and Clark has set a goal of 1,000 pounds of food to donate to the Missoula Food Bank this holiday season. There is no prize or contest for contributions, other than to see the bar on the big chart in Schalm's room grow taller.
Principal Karen Allen said the staff wanted to make the project something from the children's hearts.
"It's important that kids find niches where they can feel part of the community and support other people," Allen said. "Kids need opportunities to have roles and jobs. We call it 'meaningful work.' "
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Netzer and Kaufman added that it was a chance for them to show their classmates and neighbors another side of themselves. Both boys said they'd had to switch schools after getting into fights, and that sometimes they have trouble fitting in.
"In the past, I've been ornery," Kaufman said. "A lot of other people have helped me. This year, I decided I wanted to help other people. And we want people to see the other side of us. We want to be better people."
Both boys also have had brief experiences with hunger themselves. Netzer remembered a time when his family was going ice fishing, but misplaced some of the groceries for their trailer. When they got snowed in for four days, he said the cupboards got bare fast.
"We had to eat fish all the time," Netzer said. "It got kind of gross after a few days. It made me work a little bit harder (collecting for the Food Bank)."
The school is counting on its Thursday holiday music programs to produce the remaining cans needed to hit the 1,000-pound mark. Most of the children have brought donations from their own homes, and their parents will probably deliver more when they come to see the show.
"With Taylor and Grant on this," Schalm said, "we might reach that goal."
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org