CONYERS -- Some students and staff in Rockdale County Public Schools are hoping to stock the cupboards at the Rockdale Community Food Bank and keep them full at least through the holiday season. Already, several schools are holding food drives to collect canned foods and other nonperishable items for the food pantry.
"Since it's between the holidays, a lot of people aren't giving stuff right now," said Caitlyn Van Heest, a 10th-grader at the Rockdale Magnet School. "It's important to give all of the time."
Earlier this month, the Magnet School collected 1,591 nonperishable food items over two weeks to deliver to the Conyers food bank. "The food bank was really low, so we're excited," said 11th-grade Magnet student Sofia Tuttle.
The Magnet students set out to not only collect food, but to collect good food. They created a contest -- for both students and school staff members -- called Food Wars.
"Food Wars worked on the principle that classes (and staff) would compete against each other in a points earned and lost competition based on the type of canned food items that you brought in," said Susan Gary, a science teacher for the Magnet school. "The object of Food Wars is to fill your box with items that gain points and fill your competitors' boxes with items that take away points."
High point items included instant potatoes, grits, rice, canned fruit, canned tuna, oatmeal, canned soup and noodles. Low point items were peanut butter, Jello, canned vegetables, cereal, evaporated milk and gravy.
"The main purpose was to help everybody realize to give what you would eat," said Uchenna Anunobi, a junior at Magnet. "Nobody wants to eat nasty stuff, so everybody brought good food."
In the end, the junior class won with 170 points. Teachers were ahead until near the end, when the 11th-graders united against them.
Additionally in RCPS, Salem High School's Interact Club has delivered 700 cans to the Rockdale food bank as part of its first service project, and even the central office plans to continue collecting food items that it started collecting in October.
"All throughout our schools, we're collecting," said Cindy Ball, director of community relations at RCPS. "We're glad we support our local food bank."
Other groups collecting items include Conyers Middle School's student council, clubs at Heritage High School and many other school groups and schools as a whole in the county.
Some groups are trying to get creative to bring in more cans.
At Edwards Middle School, media specialist Catherine Dickerson is accepting cans of food in lieu of overdue library book fines for the months of November and December; 50 cents equals one can of food.
"We want to support the community," she said. "This time of the year, our thoughts turn to those who are less fortunate. ... This will take care of their fine, but it also makes them feel like they are participating in something worthwhile."
Also at Edwards, 60 students in the school's Girls Empowerment Movement required canned food for admission to games at a carnival last month. They collected six boxes of food from 150 visitors to take to the food bank, said Rochelle Mungin, a founder of the group.
Ashley Roesler, executive director of Rockdale Emergency Relief, said schools already are stocking the food pantry, and she knows it will continue for a while.
"The schools demonstrate a huge level of generosity," she said. "They are very enthusiastic.... It's a great way for them to get involved."
Although students and other community members are helping, she said demand is still so high this year because of rough economic conditions that the department continues to run low on many food items.
"We're getting the highest volume we've ever seen -- we have been operating at about 300 percent above capacity for about 18 months," she said. "More people are experiencing a need currently."
School groups and any other community individual, group or company can donate items or money to the food bank, located at Rockdale Emergency Relief, at 350 Tall Oaks Drive in Conyers. Its offices are open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but officials can make arrangements for other times.
More information about donating to RER is available by calling 770-922-9210.