Ricki Davis, left, and Katie Helmke and Alex Cizek, right, try to pull apart two stuck shopping carts as students, alumni and volunteers gather and deliver food from Cascade High School on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Everett students make sure there’s food for 173 families

EVERETT — Students showed up at Cascade High School before first light this week to make sure families had enough to eat at Christmas.

“Delivery Day” at the school was the final day of the annual holiday food drive. Students had spent the past month collecting nonperishable food and then stayed late Tuesday at the school preparing packages to be delivered to area families.

All told, about 150 students delivered food on Wednesday morning to 173 families.

Many loaded up groceries in their own (or their parents’) cars, ranging in size from SUVs to one overly optimistic student with a Mini Cooper — it proved to be too small in the end.

Other shipments went to Volunteers of America, the Mill Creek Community Food Bank, Hand in Hand Kids, and the Everett Gospel Mission.

Cascade senior Muhammed Kolly’s first delivery was eight boxes to a family of five living about a mile from the school.

Rosa Garcia’s three kids were at school when Kolly and three other Cascade students arrived with boxes in hand. Among the canned and jarred foodstuffs were loaves of bread, several dozen eggs and a frozen turkey.

Garcia said she visits the VOA’s food bank, and heard about the Cascade drive from one of her friends who has a child attending the school.

Her kids didn’t know the delivery was coming today, she said.

“It’s a surprise,” she said.

Kolly’s team was in and out of the Garcia household in five minutes. Then they went back to the school to pick up another shipment.

On his second run of the day, senior Zack Demars was working with his friends to fit 12 boxes into his Jeep Grand Cherokee like an oversized game of Tetris.

“Are we going to be able to fit 12?” said senior Katie Helmcke, eyeing the packed car. “We can put some on my feet.”

That’s what they did. Helmcke and sophomore Joe Hofman sat in the back seats while Demars and Hope Peterson piled boxes on their laps and between them.

Then it was off to north Everett to deliver the goods to Brandie Walburn, who has eight children.

Walburn, who has a daughter at Cascade, said the school had delivered groceries to her last year too, helping her get through the holiday season.

“It took months and months” before the donated groceries were all gone, she said.

When Demars and Helmcke carried boxes into her house, she recognized them from last year’s delivery, which took place in the parking lot of a Denny’s where one of Walburn’s friends had taken her for breakfast.

“They were so sweet,” Walburn said. “They loaded it into my friend’s van.”

Again, the kids were in and out in minutes, then back at the school for another run.

In the gym, ASB adviser Kelly Rogers played the ringleader, calling out to kids with a microphone when a new shipment was ready to go.

The boxes had been packed and stored in a designated part of the gym the night before. Fresh food bought from the QFC store with donated cash was brought in to add to the shipments as they went out the door.

The night before, about 300 Cascade High School students and some alumni put together those shipments in an equally big event in the gym.

During “Shopping Day,” the kids got in line with a cart and went shopping for a family.

They snaked their way through lines of tables piled high with soups, sauces, vegetables, fruit, pasta and baking mixes. Music blared from the speakers in the gym and the event had the atmosphere of a giant party.

There are rough guidelines for how much soup per person should be put in each cart, but otherwise the students used their own best judgment, Rogers said.

“We just approximate it, what you think a family of eight would need,” said senior Alexis Luna.

His friend, senior Megan Thomas, tossed handfuls of macaroni and cheese mix into the cart. “I love mac and cheese,” she said.

Luna said he helped out on the drive his freshman year, but then got busy. His sophomore year, his family was a beneficiary.

“It really makes an impact,” he said.

On the wall of the gym, a poster displayed how much had been collected during the drive: 73,949 food items.

That was the number at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Several boxes of donations came in later that evening.

“We broke 74,000,” Rogers said. That beat last year’s record by about 1,000 items.

The drive almost turned out to be a much smaller affair. Several grocery stores where the students usually set up collection tables told them they wouldn’t host the drive this year.

After The Daily Herald wrote about the students’ change of fortune, most of those stores relented.

This year, the students also raised about $18,000 in cash donations, plus one person gave a $25 gift card to Safeway to be included in every shipment, bringing the effective total amount to just below last year’s $23,000.

“It still feels really amazing,” Rogers said. “My favorite part is they want to do it. They’re great kids and they want to help the community.”

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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