Westmoreland County students put turkey on the table

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The holidays are a time when countless families in the area struggle a little harder and find themselves digging a little deeper into funding that they may not have just to bring a hot meal to the table.

Realizing the growing need of families in the region, the Westmoreland County Food Bank started a Turkey Cup Challenge several years ago, asking schools in the county to raise needed funding with a fun little competition built in.

“This year marked the eighth year of this successful fundraising venture,” food bank Director of Development Jennifer Miller said. “We had 10 schools that participated, which has been about the average for the last three to four years. However, we had two new schools participate this year, and they were very successful.”

Miller said that this is the first time that all of the participating schools raised at least $1,000 each, which is very impressive, showing the efforts of the children to bring happiness to local families.

The schools who choose to take part in the event can determine how they want to raise the funding, many choosing interesting and even educational ways of doing it.

“Each of the schools are unique in how they raise their funds and are not limited to any certain project,” Miller said. “The Yough Intermediate Middle School and the Mt. Pleasant Junior High School both have ‘Turkey Trots,' other schools have change wars or penny wars, some have the students vote for which teacher gets a pie in the face, and they win by the amount of money that is in their container. West Hempfield Middle School had a pie-in-the-face contest and a dodgeball tournament, which was very entertaining to say the least. Some schools have had reading contests. The possibilities are endless.”

Ramsay Elementary School in the Mt. Pleasant School District participated this year, with 275 participating students raising more than $3,000 by reading a certain amount of hours.

“We incorporate reading into our turkey challenge,” Ramsay teacher Mary Ann Bauer said. “They were required to do independent reading, at home, for a three-week period. The kids that participated then got family and friends to sponsor them. That is how we raised the money.”

Students at the school were rewarded with an afternoon of music and fun.

“This was a nice way for us to help other people” said student Ashley Mullen, 11.

A traveling trophy is awarded to the winning school, and this is the first year that the students of the Yough Intermediate Middle School will not have that trophy in their case.

“This is the first year in the history of the challenge that the Yough Intermediate Middle School did not win,” Miller said. “We were shocked and excited at the same time. Because of the (Franklin Regional School District) Heritage Elementary School's efforts we were able to raise almost 9 percent over what was raised last year. This year's funds will be used to purchase holiday food for all of our consumers.”

Miller added that about 15,000 people every month benefit from the food bank, and the need rises as the holidays approach.

“Throughout the holidays, we see a large influx of people coming to us for help. This year the demand has grown even more due to the cuts in the SNAP program,” Miller said. “Many of our pantries were running out of food this year before Thanksgiving, and we are doing everything within our capabilities to assure that this does not happen for the Christmas holidays. Thanks to the efforts of the 10 fine schools that participated, it will assist us in purchasing special items for their regular food box and help to offset the extra cost of providing turkeys this year to all 7,200 families for the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Miller said that the food bank hopes to see the interest continue, as the children of the district rise to the challenge of reaching out to those in need in their communities.

“We are elated with the outpouring of generosity from each of the schools,” Miller said. “Their hard work and dedication has not gone unnoticed and is greatly appreciated. We especially would like to thank Yough Intermediate Middle School for being the catalyst behind this project for so many years. We hope that they continue to battle for the lead year after year in an attempt to regain the title.”

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writefor for Trib Total Media.

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