Shay Stiers wanted to beat the eighth-graders at Kenai Middle School.
His quest became even more rewarding when he realized how many people in the community he could help in the process.
Stiers, 13, joined students from the sixth through the eighth grades who collected more than 2,100 food items to help needy families on the Kenai Peninsula.
Stiers alone brought in 463 of those canned food and imperishables.
“The eighth graders usually always win, so I decided that I’d bring in so many cans that I’d beat the eighth graders,” Stiers said.
The quest started with Stiers and a friend going door to door in their neighborhood.
“My friend Eli came and got me and asked me if I wanted to go house to house collecting cans and I eventually went with him,” Stiers said.
That night, Stiers and his friend collected 25 cans and he was hooked.
“I thought that was awesome and I went around the rest of our neighborhood. Once we ran out of places, I went further away,” Stiers said.
By Dec. 20, when the school’s food drive competition was over, Stiers had covered the Woodland Subdivision off North Forrest Drive, the Inlet Woods subdivision off of Redoubt Avenue, and Rogers Road, near Kenai Central High School.
He did most of the journey on foot dragging a sled piled high with food, however, once he got far enough away from home his family drove as he carried a bag of food from door to door.
Temperatures plunged the week Stiers did most of his petitioning.
“It was quite a few degrees below when I went out the first time,” he said.
His mother, Andrea Stiers, said her son was driven, despite the cold.
“He was very determined the whole time. He went out when it was freezing, even just walking around here,” she said, gesturing to Rogers Road, where the family waited in a van for Stiers to empty his growing sack of cans. “He’s pretty ambitious getting out there in 10, 15, 20 below. I’m pretty proud of him.”
Other than selling popcorn for Boy Scouts, she said Shay had never done anything like the food drive.
At each door, he would ring the doorbell or knock and recite his spiel.
“Hello, my name is Shay, my school is doing a canned food drive and I was wondering if you would like to donate any canned foods or imperishables.”
Each morning at school, Stiers and several others would carry in boxes of goods.
Chelsea Newton, math teacher at the middle school, said the staff was surprised at Stier’s determination.
“One day his mom had to bring the family van because that was the day he brought in 152 cans,” she said. “They were unloading just in and out of the doors. Lately, he’s been having to take the bus so he’s been loading up kids with those big reusable bags. Kids have been helping him count the cans.”
For Stiers, he said he enjoyed seeing people’s faces when they saw him at the door.
“Sort of a surprise that there’s someone there,” he said.
The funniest part, however, was when someone mistook his opening spiel.
“They thought I said cat food and they ended up giving me a can of cat food and I had to give it back to them,” he said.
Quite a few people, he said, told them about their own adventures collecting cans.
Another person offered advice about safety in the subzero temperatures when collecting food.
His mom told him to wear a hat and he didn’t, Stiers said.
“He ended up getting frostbite on (his) ears,” she said. “He said he got a lot of cans from doing it though.”
Each evening as Stiers watched the piles of food in his home grow, he got excited.
“The first thing ... I was thinking about how awesome it is that I get to give all these canned foods and whatnot .. and then after I got home and counted them, I thought about how awesome it is to beat the eighth-graders.”
All told, Stiers ended up raising almost a quarter of the cans for the food drive.
“He’s such a positive kid, it’s really impressive what he’s done,” Newton said.
The food from Kenai Middle School’s food drive was shipped over to Mountain View Elementary and distributed to needy families from there, Newton said.
Because of Stiers’ efforts, the seventh-graders got a movie day and popcorn as a reward while the student body as a whole was allowed to use iPods at lunch; belly bounce the teacher of their choice, an activity that uses blow-up tubes and Sumo wrestling-style maneuvers; and then they got to choose how their first period teachers dressed for a day, Newton said.
As Stiers considered his rewards, and the fun of the food drive, he said he wanted to tell everyone in the community one thing: “Thanks for donating.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.