Move over Andy Warhol! Take a look at what 100 middle school students can do with a soup can – or more precisely 80,000 cans, along with boxes and jars of non-perishable food. For four decades, the Hauser Junior High Holiday Food Drive has been a creative act of community art.
On Thursday evening Dec. 15, students at Hauser, 65 Woodside Rd., will transform their auditorium into a “food wonderland” of towers, pyramids and stacks of food items, decorated with holiday lights and snowmen. Santa Claus will also make an appearance.
For 40 years, Hauser has been the Salvation Army’s top can collector in the state of Illinois. Most of the food gathered during the drive will be brought to the Salvation Army pantry in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.
Food pantries around the region are quickly running through donations, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “The food we donate usually lasts the year,” said Hauser Athletic Director and drive coordinator Katie Kempe in a press release. The donation lasted only three months this year, she said.
Students who donate 200 or more items Ð or the financial equivalent-get to build the display, which Hauser refers to as “organized chaos.” That Thursday evening the public will be able to view the display between 6:30 and 9 p.m. Santa will show up for photo ops at 7 p.m.
The tradition was the 1970s brainchild of guidance counselor and coach Butch Berwanger. Kempe was a Hauser student during the mid-1990s and on student council. “Mr. B was my coach for basketball and track, and when he retired I was a student there and I took it over. Back then we collected 10,000 cans. Really, it’s just because I love it.” Fellow teachers Jodi Bauer, Renee Blondin and Amanda Johnson Ð along with the Hauser PTO Ð also coordinate the food drive.
The drive begins with an information booth and mini-display at Friday’s Riverside Holiday Stroll, Dec. 2 at Burlington and Longcommon roads.
“People can come and make a donation, drop off food or just get information,” said Kempe. Students will walk the Holiday Stroll with donation jars. PoWeR Windows and Gutters, a locally-owned property maintenance company, is also collecting donations.
Residents from any local community, particularly Riverside, North Riverside, Brookfield and Lyons are invited to participate, either by donating food items or money (checks payable to Riverside Public Schools.) Organizers will buy non-perishables by the pallet from Ultra Foods in Lombard. The purchased food will be delivered to Hauser on the weekends of Dec. 4 and Dec. 10 Ð 11.
“We’re looking for juice boxes and more complete meals, like boxed noodles with sauce or peanut butter and jelly,” Kempe said.
Also, on Dec. 6, diners who present a flyer at Applebee’s restaurant will have 15 percent of the proceeds from every dinner sold donated to the food drive. The flyer is available at the Holiday Stroll as well as at Hauser, through the school website and in the school’s digital backpack.
The Friday following the display the Captain of the Englewood Salvation Army gives all Hauser students a talk about hunger. “It helps the kids understand and learn about the world other than themselves, because kids can be kind of selfish,” said Kempe.
Then the kids tear down the display and eighth-graders help load the food onto trucks. “By 3:30 p.m. the auditorium looks like it never happened,” said Kempe.
This year, some of the food will stay close to home. Kempe got a call from Riverside Township Food Pantry, located in Township Hall, 27 Riverside Rd., requesting food early, she said. “We got $1,500 worth of food to them last week. A month ago they were desperate. We wanted to fill their pantry well before the food drive.”