It was November of my freshman year at Mira Loma High School, and the student council was making preparations for the annual canned-food drive. Since Mira Loma’s student body is relatively large, the competition is always held among fourth-period classes rather than grades. My fourth-period class was freshman World History, and we were determined to prove our freshman dominance over the ever-reigning senior classes.
So we decided to play it strategically. We pooled our money and calculated the item that would get us the most points for the least amount of money. This ended up being a questionable brand of processed baby food.
At the end of the drive, three people from our class went to Walmart and bought hundreds and hundreds of baby-food packs. I don’t remember if we ended up winning, but if we didn’t, it was because the other classes had also discovered this specific item. As a school, we probably donated more tasteless baby glop than actual human sustenance.
Country Day’s canned-food drive awards points based on serving size. The easiest way to win? Well, one container of Country Time Lemonade Drink Mix will earn your class 136 points for just $9.44, which is less than seven cents per “serving.” To put that in perspective, if each of the 144 students at our school contributed $2.41, we’d have a total of 5000 servings. And the students at Dyer-Kelly would be living off powdered lemonade. Clearly, there’s something wrong with the system if it encourages this kind of outcome.
But there’s an easy fix that will both stop lunchtime arguments and benefit the Dyer-Kelly school: assign point values to foods based on sustenance level and need.
Before each drive, we/student council should ask our contact at Dyer-Kelly for a list of needed food items. The most needed items will be worth the most points, and vice versa. In this way, with every item we donate, the points we receive will be correlated with the need we fulfill.
Of course, this doesn’t mean every item from every brand should be assigned a specific point value – foods can be grouped into general categories such as meats, grains, vegetables and fruits.
But that’s just one idea, one that came from a single mind that didn’t participate in any sort of discussion or debate. I’m not saying that this is the way to go – I could be horribly ignorant of the complications of food drives – but I do think that the system could be improved.
So get a committee together, get Student Council together, collaborate with people from Dyer-Kelly and revise the drive. What we really want is a friendly competition that’ll encourage students to bring in items that Dyer-Kelly families actually need.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the school’s charity work; food drives are wonderful, and it’s great that so many students and staff members willingly contribute. But, as we want the best for our friends at Dyer-Kelly, we need to remember that the food items we bring in for points are actually going to be eaten.
And with a system that awards more points to a single container of lemonade powder than to 50 hearty cans of soup, the ultimate goal will inevitably be lost on us students in the mad scramble for the meaningless golden can.