When was the last time you did something good for other people? As the holidays draw near, many parents find the season is a good time to talk to kids about being grateful and charitable. In early fall 2011, one young Bellingham student learned about hunger in his community and decided he wanted to do something about it, so he started a food drive at his school. He was only 6 years old at the time.
Now a third-grader at Sunnyland Elementary School, Grayson Stone is one motivated 8-year-old. When he was in first grade, he was watching television at home with his parents, Hannah and Brad Stone, when a commercial for Save the Children came on.
"He started talking about how he wanted to buy a child," Brad says. "We explained that you don't buy a child, you help buy food for them."
Grayson was happy to jump on board - how could he help get food to the kids on TV?
"We told him that even though there are hungry kids everywhere, and it's a good idea to help kids all over, there are hungry kids right here in Bellingham, at his school," Brad says.
Grayson attends Sunnyland Elementary, where more than 56 percent of students received free or reduced meals as of May 2013.
"I'd noticed it before, but I never knew it was a problem," Grayson says. "That was the first time I wanted to do something about it."
Quick to take action, Grayson suggested the family gather a bunch of food to give to the hungry students at school. The family explained the function of the Bellingham Food Bank, so Grayson changed course, suggesting they gather provisions for the bank.
He set to work planning a two-week food drive at his school, which as far as anyone can tell, hadn't had a food drive in at least a decade.
First up, Grayson asked Hardware Sales to let the school use some trash bins to serve as receptacles for the donated food. Next, he got a scale to weigh the donations from the owner of Boccemon, a local company that makes bocce courts.
"I have to work with a lot of local companies to make it work," Grayson says.
Grayson asked his dad to call the food bank for some more information and help planning. Bellingham Food Bank Executive Director Mike Cohen was happy to help.
"We talked about how long drives typically last and I gave him some ideas to increase participation," Cohen says.
The first-grader appealed to the Sunnyland Parent Teacher Association, asking them to provide funds for a friendly competition: the grade level that raised the most food by weight would get a pizza party.
He kept a graph made of construction paper at home on the window to keep track of each grade level's progress during the contest. Each Monday during the drive, Grayson gets to talk on the intercom, encouraging students to participate and filling the other kids in on their standings.
"My favorite part is getting to talk on the intercom, because you don't usually get to do it," he says.
The first year, Sunnyland Elementary gathered close to 1,500 pounds of food. Though the drive was shorter in 2012, the school managed to bring in more than 600 pounds.
The success of a food drive usually has little to do with the size of the school or the location, Cohen says. For instance, one of the area high schools gathered less than 100 pounds of food during their 2012 drive.
"It really just matters how excited they are and how much energy people put into it," he says. "We've had some really successful drives from low income schools and families."
The food bank would be happy for each school to have a food drive, Cohen says.
"We think it helps kids understand about giving back," he says. "Every school needs a champion to make that happen, whether that's a student, teacher, or employee. Grayson was that for Sunnyland, and hopefully someone will be inspired to continue doing the drives."
The young volunteer had already started planning the 2013 drive over the summer, before school was even back in session.
"He's going to start a committee this year," Brad says. "He's figuring out that if you have more people involved it might be more successful."
With the help of his friends, Grayson hopes to improve from last year's totals and gather an even larger donation for the third-annual drive, scheduled for late October to early November.
"His little sister, Skylar, is starting kindergarten this year, so hopefully she'll get the younger kids involved while Grayson and his friends will really rally the third through fifth graders," Brad says.