A chorus of "woahs" echoed Thursday night in the River Bend Foodbank warehouse as a group of high school students eagerly unrolled the large white-and-red banner.
The banner revealed in large numbers that students from 18 area schools had collected 521,115 pounds — or nearly 261 tons — of non-perishable food over the past six weeks for this year's Student Hunger Drive.
The food drive aims to raise food and awareness for the Moline foodbank, which donates to more than 300 community organizations in 22 counties in Illinois and Iowa.
"Look what you've done to this warehouse!" exclaimed Denise Hester, executive director of the Student Hunger Drive. "It's packed."
Hester estimated that the food collected this year will last 60 to 90 days.
Donations were down from about 560,000 pounds of food collected last year, Hester said.
"With dollars not going as far these days, we're so proud that these kids were almost at last year's total," she said.
A business food drive will kick off early next year. Last year's student and business drives brought in a total of 767,455 pounds of food. The Quad-City Times was presenting sponsor of the 27th Student Hunger Drive.
Hester said she was impressed that students did their research to find the best variety of foods to collect for the foodbank.
Alleman High School in Rock Island, which took the Division B first-place award, collected the most food overall with 310 pounds per student for a total of 143,832 pounds.
"We know how much people needed help and we're always motivated for a competition," said Daria Guzzo, 16, a junior.
Alleman students hosted a mini-putt and volleyball tournament, trick-or-treated for cans and did other events to collect donations, she said.
Bettendorf High School took first place in Division A with 41.5 pounds per student, a total of more than 60,000 pounds.
Anita Alvarado, 14, a freshman, said United Township had a lot of support from the community and from other schools in the area.
Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf, with 248.2 pounds per student, and Crossroads Baptist Academy in Davenport, with 308.6 pounds per student, won first-place in their divisions.
Shelby Ledbetter, 15, a sophomore at Quad-Cities Christian in Moline, said she thought her school did well this year.
The school won second place, with 240.1 pounds per student collected. Quad-Cities Christian students also won most improved in their division with an increase of 172.2 percent from 2012.
This year's biggest challenge was the cold weather, Shelby said.
"Being able to go out and get the cans door to door was difficult because of the weather," she said. "But, we still had a lot of support from parents and the community."
Since 1986, the Student Hunger Drive has collected 15,700,966 pounds of food for the hungry of the Quad-City region.
2013 Student Hunger Drive Winners
Division A (1,251 + students)
1. Bettendorf High School, 41.5 pounds per student, more than 60,000 total pounds.
2. United Township, 32.2 pounds per student.
Most improved: Davenport Central High School with a 77.2 percent increase from 2012.
Division B (300-1,250)
1. Alleman High School, 310 pounds per student, total of 143,832 pounds.
2. Assumption High School, 85.5 pounds of food per student.
Most improve: Orion High School with a 29.5 percent increase from 2012.
Division C: (25-299)
1. Rivermont Collegiate, 248.2 pounds per student.
2. Quad-Cities Christian, 240.1 pounds per student.
Most improved: Quad-Cities Christian with a 172.2 percent increase from 2012.
Division D (1-24)
1. Crossroads Baptist Academy, 308.6 pounds per student.
Mission Challenge, presented to the school determined to live the mission of the Student Hunger Drive: North Scott High School.
Other participating schools: Davenport North, Davenport West, Moline, Morning Star Academy, Pleasant Valley, Rock Island, Thurgood Marshall and Wittenmyer Learning Center.
(See original story on the QC Times website).