District 214's centennial food drive sets ambitious goal
When Mark Gunther joined John Hersey High School's food drive more than 10 years ago, he saw potential to better serve the community.
By reorganizing, creating a new strategy and drumming up more interest, Gunther and his team eventually led the Arlington Heights school to double its efforts -- collecting 40,000 food items to help feed the community.
It's an approach that Gunther will continue as he works with all District 214's six schools and three alternative programs this fall in an effort to collect 100,000 food items in honor of the district's 100th anniversary this year.
"We want to do something that encompasses as many students and staff as possible to give back and have a unified District 214 service project," said Gunther, a longtime Hersey teacher.
District 214 schools hold individual annual food drives, but this fall marks the first time they will work simultaneously to benefit food pantries across the district's eight communities with one common, centennial-themed goal.
The food drive runs from Sunday, Nov. 9 to Sunday, Nov. 23.
Residents may see Jewel-Osco bags dropped off in front of their homes with instructions on how to participate. Community members also are encouraged to join the effort by dropping off food at their local District 214 high school or the district office, 2121 S. Goebbert Road in Arlington Heights.
"My hope is that each school does it their way and maybe picks up another strategy and incrementally increases their output," Gunther said. "I'm confident that, by working together across our district, we will reach our goal."
Students and staff leading the way
It was in March 1914 that the community voted to create a local high school, paving the way for District 214, now the second-largest high school district in the state.
A century later, district staff came together and began brainstorming ways to celebrate the district's 100-year milestone while also, as part of the effort, giving back to the community that started it all.
It seemed natural to build on the annual food drive tradition in all schools and coordinate them to be held during a two-week period, organizers said.
"We were doing successful food drives on our own, (but) this was a great opportunity to multiply our efforts," said Gunther. "This was pretty organic and it fit right in."
Each school is working with a class or student organization to coordinate the food drive. At Hersey, students in the Service Over Self program organize and run the effort.
For Kasey DeFilippo, 17, a Hersey senior, the experience is a learning opportunity. She plans to connect with her peers at other schools to help the district reach its 100,000-food-item goal.
DeFilippo and a classmate will create teams of students and staff to coordinate materials and plans. And although 100,000 items is a lofty goal, she hopes to improve the food drive so it can grow even more in the years to come.
"I want people to take away that you can make a difference in your community in such a small way," DeFilippo said. "Kids need to realize that little things do make a difference. Everything goes directly back to our community and that's what makes it special."
At Prospect High School, members of the school's Service Club are filming commercials to raise awareness and explain to students how they can contribute.
"Hopefully this will help to start that educational piece," said Michelle Tantillo, a Prospect physics teacher and the school's Service Learning coordinator.
With the help of the student council, the school started its food drive effort early and so far has raised 1,500 cans and counting, Tantillo added.
Teaching students to give back
As is the case every year, the goal is to teach students to think outside themselves and help out in any way they can, organizers said.
"You might not think the things you have are desired by other people," Tantillo said. "People take for granted having breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are people in our community who don't have that."
Gunther, also the Service Learning coordinator at Hersey, said he hopes to share the school's food drive strategies so the District can reach the 100,000 figure.
When the food drive at Hersey began 40 years ago, the effort yielded a modest result. But with the assistance of committed students and staff, the collection has multiplied over the years, reaching 40,000 items annually over the last decade.
"After doing this for several years, one of the most rewarding things is just the general feeling that kids give by giving back," said Gunther. "That's a powerful feeling."
For more information on the food drive or other District 214 centennial events, visit www.district214.org/100years or call (847) 718-7688.
How you can help• Fill the grocery bag left at your doorstep and leave it out for students to collect on your designated day.
• Bring a bag of donations to your local high school or the administration offices at Forest View Educational Center, on weekdays.
When: Nov. 9-Nov. 23
• Buffalo Grove High School, 1100 W. Dundee Road, Buffalo Grove
• Elk Grove High School, 500 W. Elk Grove Blvd., Elk Grove Village
• Hersey High School, 1900 E. Thomas St., Arlington Heights
• Prospect High School, 801 W. Kensington Road, Mount Prospect
• Rolling Meadows High School, 2901 Central Road, Rolling Meadows
• Wheeling High School, 900 S. Elmhurst Road, Wheeling
• Forest View Educational Center, 2121 S. Goebbert Road, Arlington Heights
Info: (847) 718-7690