PIEDMONT -- Try to imagine 10,915 pounds of food.
Hard, isn't it?
According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, it's equivalent to 9,096 meals and could feed a family of four three times a day for two years. That's hard to imagine, perhaps, but not impossible. This past December, students and teachers at Piedmont High School raised and donated 10,915 pounds of nonperishable food during a three-week campus food drive.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank, which hosts the annual countywide drive and distributes the food to families in need, said Piedmont High was the largest nongrocery store donor by about 7,000 pounds.
"No one else even came close," said Michael Altfest, the food bank's communications manager.
"You should have seen our office downstairs," said Ken Brown, coordinator of the Associated Student Body class at Piedmont High. "It was loaded head high with food."
The PHS Associated Student Body Community Outreach team -- consisting of senior Alec Petty, senior Jamie Chow and freshman Maryse Suppiger -- spearheaded the on-campus event, coordinated with the food bank and promoted the food drive to teachers and fellow students. They also focused on educating the student body about widespread community need and the food drive's impact. The result: the largest pull on record.
"We would go into these classes and provide this information about who we were helping and how many meals we were providing a week," said Petty, 17. " I feel like we reached some of these students ... and if the number of pounds we raised is any evidence, I feel like it made a difference."
Friendly competition and a rewards system also provided incentives for the student body of Piedmont High, whose motto is "Achieve the Honorable." Each sixth-period class competed to donate the most food and raise the most money. The winning class, Virgina Leskowki's sixth-period Spanish, got the glory and a pizza party. All classes that raised more than 1,000 pounds of food will get ice cream parties, and classes that passed the 500-pound point will celebrate with popcorn.
There was heightened energy in the competition this year because Janet Labberton, English teacher and six-time (or every PHS food drive on record) consecutive winner of the first-place prize, was out of the competition. She didn't have a sixth-period class.
Unable to officially participate in the race, Labberton challenged all four of her classes to bring in 1,000 pounds of food each, which they did. She also rallied 12 students in her classes who had a blank sixth period to raise another 1,000 pounds.
"I honestly feel like every class should bring in 1,000 pounds or more," she said, "nothing to do with the popcorn party or any party. That should be the minimum."
Her enthusiasm proved infectious.
"Other teachers this year for the first time ... (began) to do something creative or to partner in," she said. "It really became, I felt, more of a cooperative snowballing this year. Sometimes it's just, you know, 'Who can beat Mrs. Labberton?' and we all know the answer to that question: 'Nobody.'"
After the drive ended just before Christmas break, transportation logistics proved extensive. It took three food bank staff members, three volunteers and a few students to load all 45 full barrels into a 24-foot truck. "Normally we only need one person," Altfest said.
"The other really important thing is that it's not just poundage," he said. "You can tell by the quality and variety that (the students) put a lot of thought into it."
After leaving PHS, the truck journeyed to the food bank warehouse near Oakland International Airport, a massive storage facility that resembles Costco in scale. Scheduled in shifts, groups of 40 to 50 volunteers come five to six days a week to sort and pack the shelf-safe food for distribution.
Each food box is hand-picked and volunteers are trained to focus on variety and balance. If the box includes pasta, it should also include pasta sauce. It must have a form of protein. The diverse sources of the food drive donations mean that no two boxes are ever exactly the same.
Despite a successful holiday food drive this year, Altfest said that all the donations will only last through the end of March 2013.
"That gives you and idea about how much need there is in our community," he said.
The food bank's 2010 Hunger Study reported that more than 49,000 people receive food from the food bank every week.
"Now it's more than that," Altfest said. The organization serves one-sixth of Alameda County residents. Nearly a half are children and many are seniors.
"Hunger doesn't stop after the holidays," he said, and encouraged people to volunteer or donate continuously throughout the year.
At Piedmont High, teachers and administrators are hoping to integrate more community focused projects and classes into the curriculum, using the continuing success of the food drive as motivation.
"It's just a drop in the bucket, we know, but it's important," Piedmont High Principal Rich Kitchens said of the food drive. "One of our missions is to educate the kids about what it's going to be like in the real world, to respect diversity and get our of our bubble."