GARDINER — Close to 200 needy families in the Gardiner area will receive frozen turkeys and other food this week after students and staff in the local school district spent the last few weeks collecting donations of food, cash and cardboard boxes ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

The annual food drive came to a close Sunday afternoon when a group of Gardiner Area High School students gathered in the school’s auditorium to load all the nonperishable donations into boxes. On Monday, they will distribute the turkeys and other food — including everything from stuffing mix to potatoes to eggs to noodles to pie fillings — to families around Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner.

Loading the boxes with cans, potatoes and other food was physically demanding. Some students were tossing sacks of spuds to each other in assembly line fashion, while others were running string beans and other canned vegetables to boxes arrayed across seats in the auditorium.

Several students said they were working up a sweat, but that all the physical and organizational labor that went into the food drive in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving was worth it.

“It’s really rewarding,” said Sierra Goodridge, a senior who is also an officer in the local chapter of the National Honor Society, which organized the food drive. “Just being able to help families that can’t support themselves, it’s nice.”

Students collected donations in a number of ways, including going door-to-door asking for food or money with which to buy it.

“The willingness of people to help” was a pleasant surprise, Goodridge said. “One lady gave $20 because she did not have much food in her cupboard.”

There were also a series of competitions in the school to see which groups could make the biggest donations. One competition took place across the whole school, with home rooms trying to out-raise each other. Smaller competitions took place for students who either sing in the chorus or play in the band. In chorus, for example, students with different voice types held one contest.

They haven’t calculated the totals yet, said Hunter Chasse, a junior, “but I think the sopranos are going to win.”

Prizes for the different competitions included doughnuts and getting to miss a class.

Students outside the high school also participated, said Alan Yuodsnukis, a teacher who serves as faculty adviser to the local chapter of the National Honor Society and helped organize the food drive. In one kindergarten class, Yuodsnukis said, students got so excited they all contributed the contents of their piggy banks, raising $77 — enough to buy 10 turkeys.

Several local groups and businesses helped out with the food drive, including Hannaford, Pine State Trading, The Red Barn restaurant, the Rotary Club, the district’s bus drivers and people who support the school’s music offerings. Yuodsnukis also praised nurses and guidance counselors across the district who helped identify families that could benefit from the donations.

The food drive began more than a decade ago, Yuodsnukis noted, and it has grown considerably in the 10 years he has worked at the school. In 2007, he said the school donated 25 boxes of food, just a quarter of this year’s goal.

“It’s so heartwarming,” he said. “Everybody has just been so fantastic.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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