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'Every day needs to be the season of giving while we have food insecurity,' says a student.

COURTESY PHOTO' MASON WRIGHT - Students at Century High School donate to a coin drive to buy grocery store gift cards for families in Hillsboro.Students at Century High School in Hillsboro smashed their own fundraising expectations to feed hundreds of local families over the holidays.

"Century is really passionate about giving back," senior Isabella Godoy said. "It made me really sentimental to know so many at our school care about the issue of food insecurity."

Before the pandemic, high schools in Hillsboro competed in a food drive.

Century, which has about 1,500 students, originally hoped to raise $10,000 for grocery store gift cards this December. It finished with $22,000.

Donations were made mostly by students through a coin drive, but they also came from teachers, alumni and the rest of the school community.

Student volunteers also traded shifts at local grocery stores asking shoppers for donations.

In the end, Century partnered with Elks Lodge, a community service organization with over 800 members in its Hillsboro branch, to buy $50 grocery store gift cards for 658 families within Hillsboro School District, including over 50 at Century.

Dave Edwards, an organizer with Elks Lodge, said there are even leftover funds for future gift cards.

"Century told us they wanted to help out, and we said, 'OK, great.' The first time I went over to pick up money, they had $5,000, and then they called to ask when they could bring the rest of the money," Edwards said. "Six of us spent an hour separating and counting all of it.

"We were choked up. It brings tears to your eyes to think about these kids and how they want to help."

COURTESY PHOTO: MASON WRIGHT - A handful of teachers organized a food pantry at Century High School during the pandemic.According to Oregon Department of Education data, more than 40% of students at Century qualify for free school meals, a federal marker for poverty.

During the pandemic, a handful of teachers with the help of student volunteers set up a food pantry to partner with the Oregon Food Bank, which reached over 1 million people statewide in both 2020 and 2021, and local grocery stores to distribute food to families.

"When we have these service opportunities, the students who volunteer and really rise to the occasion are often those that have been impacted personally," said Mason Wright, who has taught at the school for 15 years and helps organize the food pantry. "Those students with the lived experiences really recognize the importance of making a difference."

Wright said the project started with five families last school year and has grown to help 23 with bi-monthly bags of groceries, as the effort to combat student hunger goes on past the holidays.

"During the fundraiser, I realized it shouldn't take a certain time of year to raise a certain amount of money for hungry families. Hunger isn't just a holiday thing," Godoy said. "They say this is the season of giving, but every day needs to be the season of giving while we have food insecurity. It doesn't go away because we raised this money."

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