Looking like Santa’s elves, a small army of Emily Dickinson School children hauled boxes, carts and wagons full of goodies Wednesday to help the Gallatin Valley Food Bank feed the hungry.

There was a lot of excited chatter as students brought out their collections of canned soup, cereal, spaghetti and other goods to fill up the back of the food bank’s van.

“The whole class was into it,” fourth-grader Randy Googe said, adding that helping the food bank felt really good. “No Montanan should go to bed hungry.”

Principal Sharon Navas said the school holds a food drive every year, but the last few years donations had been slim. So to make it more fun, the school created a competition to see which classes could collect the most food. The winners would enjoy extra recess.

“We hope kids learn community service,” Navas said, “and we all take care of each other.”

Robin Arnold, assistant principal, said the food bank supports students all year long. It provides backpacks of food on Fridays for kids from low-income families at Emily Dickinson and other Bozeman schools, to make sure they don’t go hungry over the weekend.

“The food bank has been so generous to us, we wanted to give back,” Arnold said.

The competition proved a big success. Some classes measured their haul by the pound and others by the individual item. In all the school collected 750 pounds of food, plus 1,200 food items. Winners of the competition were the fourth-grade classes of teachers Mary Christiansen and Tina Martin.

Fourth-grader Skye Moore said she was impressed by the amount of food loaded into the food bank’s van. “You can see they’re going to be doing real good with all the food.”

Lori Christenson, food bank program manager, said all the Bozeman schools participate in food drives at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Christenson said. “This time of year especially, as a mom myself, it’s nice to have teaching moments. Schools are leading the charge to talk about what it means … to give back to the community. It gives families an opportunity to talk about what it means to give, to be hungry. And it’s very tangible for kids.”

Ten-year-old Anna West, holding up one end of a heavy box of canned food, said she felt really good about the drive, though her back hurt.

“I just know that I’m helping people in need,” she said. “The worst part of donating food is carrying it.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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