Lake Park High School senior Michael Amerlan has been gearing up all fall for what he calls "food drive season."
The Itasca teen competes in track and field in the spring, but when late autumn comes he's in a different contest: trying to collect the most food for charity as the holidays approach.
Michael, 17, participated last year in a food drive run by the Roselle school's Service in Action class, an elective course that combines academics with public service. Though not a student in the class, Michael is friends with the instructor, Shaun Conway, who taught Michael in other classes.
When Michael collected roughly 100 bags of food last year, Conway was stunned.
"It was quite the pomp and circumstance when he arrived," he said.
After that, Michael kept up the friendly, competitive banter -- claiming that he would collect more food than all the Service in Action students combined this fall.
"I told him either way, it's a win-win for everybody involved," Conway said.
So this year, the two upped the ante. Conway challenged Michael to try collecting more bags than about 50 other students in two of his service classes as a matter of pride -- and helping the community.
"Initially, my goal was to double last year and collect about 200 bags," Michael said. "But when Mr. Conway asked if we wanted to turn it into a competition, I realized if I wanted to beat them and actually do something big, I had to do closer to 1,000."
Every day for about the past two weeks, Michael has been checking Conway's classroom and watching bags from other students piling up.
Meanwhile, he's been leaving collection bags and notes explaining his effort on the doors of neighbors, friends and strangers throughout the towns surrounding Lake Park.
Within a matter of about six days -- two weekends, plus two weekdays during which Michael admits he neglected some homework -- he has collected about 700 bags.
While returning to collect them, he's found notes from strangers wishing him luck or thanking him for the effort. From others, the reaction was even more emotional.
"One couple in Addison saw me coming to collect the food, and they ran out, hugged me and told me I was an inspiration," Michael said. "That was a really touching moment."
Ultimately, Michael was not able to beat his classmates' combined effort, which yielded roughly 1,500 bags of donated goods.
On Monday, Michael will join the Service in Action students to help deliver the bounty to People's Resource Center in Wheaton, Lake Park's beneficiary for this year.
Conway said even though Michael's competitive streak makes him stand out individually, his good intentions represent all of Lake Park.
"The overall atmosphere of the school is giving and charity," Conway said.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.