Hauser Junior High School kicked off its annual food drive — this year it turns 45 years old — last week, and for the second year running it’s being organized by the Hauser PTO.

And while students will still be working individually to collect non-perishable food items — the goal this year is 35,000 items — organizers have tried to extend their reach this year, seeking out sponsors and partnering with the Riverside Township Food Pantry for the first time.

In past years, all of the food collected during the food drive went to stock the shelves of the Salvation Army Red Shield Center in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. The food collected by the junior high students provides enough each year to feed 700 families for four months, said food drive chairwoman Lisa Gaynor.

“Over time, we’ve probably donated about 1.7 million cans of food,” said Gaynor, who remembers collecting items for the drive as a Hauser student herself. “We’re a big part of their community.”

But this year, Gaynor said the food drive committee wanted their reach to be local as well. While the Salvation Army will still receive the lion’s share of what’s donated, the Riverside Township Food Pantry, which has a capacity of about 20 cases of food and is located on the third floor of the township hall, will also benefit.

“It’s nice for the kids to understand the power of what they’re doing,” said Gaynor, who said the junior high is planning for students to deliver food to the township food pantry several times throughout the school year, perhaps once a month.

“We want the kids to understand the end piece, that there are a lot of people who don’t have good things going for them,” Gaynor said. “Seeing it is different than saying it.”

The PTO is also hoping for community participation by posting food collection boxes at about a dozen locations in Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside, including all District 96 elementary schools; each village’s public library; the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road in Riverside; the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.; the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department, 10 Pine Ave.; Riverside Foods, 48 E. Burlington St. in Riverside; Tischler’s Finer Foods, 9118 Broadway Ave. in Brookfield; and Minuteman, 3346 Harlem Ave. in Riverside.

The Salvation Army has provided a Pod storage unit, which is located in the rear lot of Hauser Junior High, and students will host can collections from 6:45 to 8 a.m. on April 6, 8, 11, 15, 18 and 22. They’ll also be collecting food at the spring music performances at the school on April 13 and 20.

And on April 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Hauser PTO will host its second annual Community Day, where residents are encouraged to give food and cash donations to the food drive. The event will be held in the Hauser parking lot and will feature live music, hot dog lunches and activities for kids.

“We’re trying not only to make it a Hauser drive, but to engage the community as well,” Gaynor said.

Hauser’s food drive ends April 22. Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation online can do so at www.cheddarup.com/tabs/hauser-canned-food-drive.