Tuesday, Collegedale Academy's 300-plus high school students carried bag after bag of nonperishable food items into the school's gym.
It was pickup day for the school's annual CAD 4 Hope food collection drive. Community members were asked to leave bags of nonperishables out Tuesday morning for Collegedale Academy students to pick up and deliver to The Samaratin Center in Ooltewah.
The CAD comes from Richard Cadavero, the late Collegedale Academy teacher who started the program and who died in September.
"It's our opportunity to make him proud," said Joelle Kanyana, a Collegedale Academy senior.
Cadavero launched Project 5,000 in the 1990s. It was his challenge to Collegedale Academy students to collect 5,000 food items for needy families in the Ooltewah/Collegedale area.
The program took off and became an annual event at the school. By the mid-2000s, the drive was collecting more than 40,000 cans per year.
So the school did away with counting each of them.
Now, thanks to a scale on loan, donations are measured in pounds. Last year, the school collected about 13,000 pounds of food - about equal to an adult African elephant.
This year, the school collected 12,615 pounds of food, and expects more to trickle in over the next few weeks.
"This will keep their food pantry up for about an entire year," said Chris Massengill, Collegedale Academy chaplain.
Emma Hooper, volunteer and programs coordinator at The Samaritan Center, said the CAD 4 drive is the center's "main food drive, absolutely."
Overseeing the operation can be a stressful gig.
Take Tuesday morning in the school's gym, where students were free to hang out after unloading their donations.
Some freshmen tossed one another into enormous piles of empty cardboard boxes. Footballs flew around. Running. A few kids were very late getting back.
"In a couple of hours, I will be relaxing," Massengill said.
But not yet. A vehicle carrying students broke down somewhere, latecomers explained.
It sounds like a lot of trouble - and a big liability - for a food drive.
It probably would be. If it were just a food drive.
"It's an opportunity to practice what we believe in a Christian school," Kanyana said. "It's an opportunity to think outside ourselves."
In one corner of the gym her fellow seniors talked while stacking their empty boxes, not leaping into them like the freshman across the room.
Seniors know the drill by now - and the significance of what CAD 4 Hope means to Collegedale and Ooltewah.
"A lot of people want to prove that we actually care," Kanyana said.
The younger ones will get it someday.
This was their first CAD 4 Hope drive, but "they know it's important," Kanyana said.
Important because a lot of Tuesday's donations will be the only food some Collegedale and Ooltewah residents will have to eat, and important because it's not just a food drive. It's being a good neighbor.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731.