At 12, John Austin said he's "never been hungry, but I have been poor."
"And I know there are people poorer than I am," he said.
That's why the sixth-grader at Rossville Middle School was eager to participate in the school's annual food drive. The goal for the 662 students was to bring in 3,000 nonperishable food items to help Rossville residents having hard times during the holidays. They collected 3,092.
On Thursday, the school displayed the gathered food and also announced that it had collected more than $300 in cash that will be given to Rossville Community Ministries to serve residents who need help.
"I care about how kids grow up. I don't want them to go hungry and starve when I have food in my cabinets," said Dana Clemmons, a 12-year-old seventh-grader.
In each grade, homerooms that collected the most canned goods will be rewarded with a party. Students will choose the party food, such as pizza or nachos and cheese.
But no student mentioned the party incentive when asked why he wanted to help.
"It just felt like the right thing to do," said 12-year-old Austin Long, who contributed noodles and cans of chili.
Caleb Hull, 11, said he "did this to make sure no family every went hungry again."
On Thursday, Kathryn Hicks, volunteer coordinator with Rossville Community Ministries, waited in the hallway near the office for students to box the canned goods.
"At this time of year, people have more difficulty getting work," said Hicks. "So we have more customers; so this food is going to help quite a bit."
The food drive exemplifies the depth of the students' caring, said Principal Glen Brown.
"Our kids have huge hearts," he said. "To see them get excited about a local opportunity to make a difference really just warms the heart and makes the season that much more joyous for everybody, the families who need this most important."