The tables in the Ooltewah High School cafeteria are empty.
"Just wait," said Taylor Lamunyon, a senior who is helping with the high school's Great Turkey Race this year. "I bet these tables will be overflowing with cans before we're done."
The Great Turkey Race is an annual charity run by the students of Ooltewah High School's leadership class. The goal is to collect enough donations to provide local families who need assistance -- this year there are about 60 as recorded by the Samaritan Center -- with food for Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
Students gathered Monday to assemble food boxes, having campaigned throughout November for canned goods and money. Wal-Mart donated a grant that was used to buy perishable items, such as turkeys and milk.
The bell rings and students start gathering around the tables. Beverly Hollingsworth, who teaches the leadership class, stands in front holding a microphone.
"I need all my boys outside unloading," she said. "Ladies, you'll be directing them where to go."
Soon, the tables are full of cans, boxes and bags of fresh fruit. This year, students brought in a record number of cans, with about 2,000 donated Monday alone, Lamunyon said.
"It's awe-inspiring seeing how much people are willing to give," Lamunyon said. "It's humbling."
Students are broken into groups and given the information about their families. In group three, juniors Taylor Massey, Kyle Molhusen and Carly Ellis will box and deliver food for three families.
As they move through the tables, Molhusen hands cans back to the girls. Massey makes sure Molhusen and Ellis have oranges.
The boxes get fuller and heavier, and the students get more creative with moving them. Collin Self bear hugs a group of cans, moving quickly to get them to his boxes before they slip from his hands.
"It's priceless -- seeing the expressions on the families' faces," he said. "We've got more than enough to give."
Students cycle back to the tables, grabbing more for the larger families, and often filling another box. Ellis, whose family has three people, and Massey, whose family has five, end up with two boxes.
In group three, they begin organizing the boxes, placing the softer and perishable items on top.
After about an hour, the cafeteria tables at Ooltewah High School are full of food to be delivered.
Students will be back at 7 a.m. today to retrieve their boxes and refrigerated items, Massey said. They will load the boxes into cars, and they will spend time with all of their families before the day is over.
"We've got a sense of community and working together [at Ooltewah], and we'll take that atmosphere out into the community," Lamunyon said.
Contact staff writer Rachel Bunn at email@example.com or 423-757-6592.