Spurred on by compassion and competition, two middle schools battled it out — and the winner was the local food pantry.

Union Grove Middle School and Eastern Hills Middle School decided to fill the shelves of the Harker Heights Food Care Center. In turn, a group of Student Council leaders at Union Grove decided to make it interesting.

Union Grove principal Dagmar Harris agreed with her students that a competition with cross-town rival Eastern Hills could only increase the volume of the food drive, she said.

She and Eastern Hills principal Jamie Blassingame decided the losing principal would serve pizza to the top-donating students of the winning school.

Together, the schools collected 7,581 non-perishable food items for donation. Union Grove students and staff raised 2,521 and Eastern Hills collected 5,060 items.

“Community service and helping others is big here,” Blassingame said. “We really went all out.”

In September, the two principals started talking about a newspaper story on the food care center’s extreme need for donated foods.

Harris posted the story in a school hallway and the Student Council Principal Advisory Committee suggested a competitive drive to add interest.

“I’ve been excited by their willingness to give back,” Harris said of her students. “They have been doing the groundwork, and I think it will make them better citizens.”

Union Grove promoted the drive as an effort to fill the principal’s office with cans. Early this week, only a narrow walkway was visible on Harris’ office floor.

Eastern Hills’ efforts centered on activity periods called Panther Time. Coach Latisha McGee didn’t have a Panther Time group so she jumped in with a hallway neighbor, a special education FASP Life Skills class and teacher Blake Thomason.

McGee’s enthusiasm sparked other classes to give more and the numbers escalated.

She gave the students in her adopted class a goal and assured them that she would make sure they reached it.

“I’m a competitive person,” McGee said. “They responded overwhelmingly, and I came up with the rest. I wanted them to win the celebration.”

The Thomason/McGee class raised 804 items. Also at Eastern Hills, Diana Stock’s class raised 638 items and Clarneva Pierre’s class raised 566 items.

“The kids really got on board,” Blassingame said, explaining that in the middle of the drive when they heard they were 70 cans behind Union Grove, students started calling their parents asking to purchase soup and noodles.

“The big winner is the food pantry,” Blassingame said.

“It was important because we were helping our community, especially people who are hungry,” said Sarah Chon, eighth-grader and Union Grove Student Council president.

“I was happy with how much we got,” she said. “It was more than I expected.”

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