Beginning in September, Erskine Academy committed to a challenging mission once again to collect food and funds to support the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine by participating in WGME13/Fox23’s School Spirit Challenge Tournament of Champions. The School Spirit Challenge is a competition between schools to show school pride and spirit, all while helping the community, according to a news release from Erskine Headmaster Michael J. McQuarrie.

The program is designed to promote the school community and good stewardship with high school students in central and southern Maine through an eight-week food drive to benefit the Good Shepherd Food Bank and local food pantries.

Just this past year, the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine distributed 24 million meals to Mainers in need through their network of local partner agencies. The organization partners with more than 400 local organizations — food pantries, meal sites, schools, senior centers and more — from Kittery to Fort Kent and provides nutritious food to Mainers who are struggling to make ends meet. The food bank also is working on long-term solutions to break the cycle of poverty and food insecurity, according to the release.

This was the second time Erskine participated in the School Spirit Challenge, the first being two years ago, an event which they won handily over the other participating schools because of the efforts of many students, parents, alumni, businesses and friends. In 2016, Erskine was the School Spirit Champion for having raised nearly 85,000 pounds of food, an amount exceeding the total raised by the second and third finishers combined, according to the release. Given this accomplishment, the group entered this tournament of champions with confidence. However, since the other competing high schools, also past champions, are all south of Erskine and have larger school enrollments, the collection goal has been set at an ambitious 100,000 pounds of food.

Always up for a challenge and a worthy cause, the campaign was kicked off at the homecoming assembly in September. In attendance were representatives from the GSFB and the sponsors of this year’s challenge. The morning kicked off with students arriving at 5:30 a.m. for a tailgate breakfast served in exchange for their food donations.

The campaign continued until Nov. 2 and was a bigger success than the academy ever imagined. The Erskine community pulled together collecting food, donating money, and supporting the many planned events to support the challenge. On-campus events included Fill the Bus with cans and bottles, Fly Like an Eagle 5K Run/Walk, Trivia Night, Trunk or Treat, Open Mic Night, and a dodgeball tournament. Off-campus activities included an EA Parents Food Drive Challenge and a 21-plus Sharing Spirits hosted by alumni. An online appeal went out on social media, and many generous donors gave through the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s virtual food drive.

Though initiated by Erskine’s students and faculty, the group led what was a broader community campaign supported substantially by many area businesses and organizations. Partners include Albison’s Printing, Augusta Emblem Club 233, B & B Septic Service, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Borislow Insurance, Brian Reay Plumbing & Heating, Central Maine Pyrotechnics, Darling’s Ice Cream For A Cause, Dutil Enterprises, Fieldstone Quickstop, G & E Roofing, Glidden Construction & Foundations, Harvest Time Natural Foods, Hussey’s General Store, Jackson’s Lawn Service, Kempton Tobey & Son, Kennebec Savings Bank, Knowles Mechanical, Legacy Home Improvements, M.A. Haskell Fuel, MC Disposal, Mid-State Machine Products, Natanis Golf Course, O’Connor GMC-Buick-Chevrolet-Cadillac, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Tobey’s Grocery Store, TRICORP Federal Credit Union, William H. Brewer & Co., and United Insurance Agency.

Erskine won the competition by far exceeding its goal. A record-breaking 196,969.25 pounds of food was donated for The Good Shepherd Food Bank, which is more than twice the amount that any of the 60-plus competing schools had raised in the five years and 10 seasons of this competition.

“The School Spirit Challenge was for a great cause, and through it, our community engaged in collective problem-solving and activism as we made a significant difference, at least for a time, in the fight against hunger in Maine. We demonstrated, and others witnessed, the dynamism of EA’s values — stewardship, leadership, and relationships—at work. The work ethic, inspiration and idealism of our young people, in particular, are humbling and heartening,” McQuarrie said in the release.

In the coming weeks, the group of students will continue to recognize and thank the many individuals, including alumni from across the country, businesses and organizations for their generosity and goodwill that aided the efforts, strengthened the school community, and fed many hungry people in Maine.

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