Marina and Vida show off the 2017 Can Wars shirts

Each holiday season, San Mateo High School runs one of the largest Holiday Food & Fund Drives to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank. The whole student body pitches in to raise thousands of pounds of food and funds. Since 2002, through these efforts, they have provided close to 550,000 meals to the community.

Vida Wadhams and Marina Fess are both seniors at San Mateo High School and will be leading the drive this holiday season. They shared with us what it takes to run this drive and why it is so important to them to give back.

What do you do for your food drive? What does it take to make it happen?

Marina: We actually started in the summer, and we usually do start in summer. So during summer we made a checklist of everything we need to do throughout the entire canned food drive and that involves making flyers, pins, and posters.

Vida: This is the biggest event we put on of anything that happens the entire year, any type of event that happens on campus. So it is a really really hard event to put on. When we get into the school year, we call around 50 grocery stores in the Bay Area to ask their permission to stand outside their storefront to ask for donations for the food drive. And then we have a meeting with our tutorial representatives, which are basically class representatives from every study hall class, and then we explain to them the importance of the canned food drive and their role to go back to their tutorial with a time slot and location at one of the grocery stores and get kids to sign up to put in an hour day standing outside of the store front. One of our goals is to have every tutorial or study hall participate, and every year we have met that goal. It’s fantastic. The rate of participation at this school is crazy. Kids want to be doing this, and they understand that it’s a kind thing, but it is also a thing that we need to do and that’s really special.

How did you first get involved with the food drive at San Mateo High School?

Marina: I just started this year. I had been working in my individual tutorial, which is a separate class. I helped in organizing and allocating jobs in that setting and I have been doing that for the last three years, in my individual class. It really means a lot because especially at the school there is a large diversity of people who depend on the food bank to get food on a daily basis so I really just wanted to contribute in the best way I could.

Vida: When we are organizing the food drive, we do it in a sort of smaller block to organize it better and make a competition between tutorials, which are our study hall classes. So coming on to San Mateo High School campus, there is an expectation that we are people of service. We come on to the campus for the first time as freshman with the knowledge of the reputation that San Mateo has for being a school that is super aware of the needs of our community. I’ve been the Community Service chair for the past two years. It has just been an amazing journey to see the entire food distribution process and how it effects our community and the way that the school just really comes together during this time.

Signage from the 2016 San Mateo High School Food Drive

Why is this Food Drive so important to San Mateo High School?

Vida: It is very interesting to consider the fact that we live in the Bay Area, where we perceive ourselves to be super privileged and everything is plentiful and we are successful, and that’s true, we have a culture where we are very provided for, but we also have to realize that the difference between families that are socio-economically on the lower side and those who are in the middle to higher side is a huge range, especially when we are talking about the San Mateo High School campus

Marina: Our school works for each other. The people who are able to get food on a daily basis and do not have to worry about that feel that they have a duty to those that don’t feel like they know when their next meal is coming. That plays a lot into the dynamics of our school as well, in that people provide for each other, and they notice that there is a disparity of economic situations, speaks highly of the people at our school.

Vida: Just to add on to that, something that we struggle with in our canned food drive every year is pushing for the idea that we are one community, so we work really hard to bridge that gap between those who are providing services and those that are receiving it. Because obviously there are kids in our school that do not have the resources to bring in 200 cans for their class or $10, so we really try to emphasize donating someone’s time, that time we are standing outside of a storefront asking for donations or counting cans. That kind of donation is just as valuable as a monetary donation.

What are some of the important skills or lessons you have taken away from running such a large food drive?

Marina: I think that a big one is learning to communicate effectively and pragmatically not just with your peers but also with administrators and adults around you. I think that’s a really necessary skill to take into college and later in your life. I think that cooperation, especially of a large group of people, that takes a lot of focused work but something that you can carry into any aspect of your life.

Vida: I think Marina is absolutely right. But I think that the most important thing to have going through the process is just an insane amount of heart. You cannot do this job if you don’t understand why you are doing this. Ms. Cowey [advisor at San Mateo High School] always talks to us about developing our “why” so there is the what, what are we doing, and then there is the how, how are we logistically going to do this, but the most important about it is understanding why you do it. And I think that is something that we look for each and every person that participates in the event, and we are really lucky that so many kids on our campus have that why and understand their purpose because that is truly what makes this campus and our culture so special.

What’s your theme for this year?

Vida: We like to keep it fun, so our theme this year is Can Wars- so the Star Wars theme. And we actually have shirts that we just finished the design for. So every year we try to pick a fun theme, which is kind of ironic because it is such a somber message, so there is difficulty in that with the rally because Marina and I run the rally and we go out and give a long speech to our class and the school community but also at the same time get them hyped up and excited about the drive. So that’s why we do a theme like Can Wars. We are doing a hype video with the football team which is super fun. So we are excited about that and its looking really good!

**To learn how to host your own food and fund drive, click here.**