Many of Delia Wallis' students recognize the significance of a food drive.
"We even have kids that speak up and say, 'We're going to get some of those boxes,'" said Wallis, a teacher at Armand Larive Middle School in Hermiston. "But our kids know how important it is to help. They understand that."
The school wrapped up its 12-day food drive with two other district schools Friday morning. Armand Larive students and staff collected 4,035 food items this year - not as much as last year, but a good result nonetheless, Wallis said.
Hermiston High School collected 3,019 items during the same period. Sandstone Middle School gathered 7,210. That brought the three Hermiston schools' total to 14,264 food items.
Several people involved pointed to economic struggles as a reason for the lower-than-usual turnout. The high school has collected as many as 40,000 items in years past, said teacher Jerry Carlson, though the range of 5,000-10,000 is more typical.
But uncertain times didn't temper enthusiasm.
Surrounded by dozens of boxes of food in her classroom Friday, Wallis led an energetic group of students who formed an assembly line packing food out the door and into a large truck. Hermiston Police Lt. Jason Edmiston and former Armand Larive teacher Ric Sherman joined several other adults helping outside.
The food will go to the Hermiston Police Department's Christmas Express program, which distributes the items to needy families in the community. Other items will go to Agape House in Hermiston.
"This is a loving, caring community," Sherman said. "Even when times are tight, they'll dig down and do whatever they can."
Students let out a loud cheer when the last of the boxes passed down the line. Todd Sprong, whose P.E. class acted as the help crew Friday, said his students jumped at the chance to pitch in. They showed a caring attitude typical of the school, he added.
"One thing we've found over the years is that the kids who have the least bring the most," Sherman said. "They know what it's all about."