FINLEY -- An annual food fight once again is raging in the halls of Finley Elementary School.
But there's no egg yolk dripping down walls or flour caking classroom doors.
This fight is about which group of students cares most about the less fortunate in their small community.
Every November for the past 10 years, students have brought cans of food to school as donations.
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After Thanksgiving, members of In Step Church come to collect the thousands of cans, which they put into grocery bags that are distributed to needy Finley families shortly before Christmas.
The process is greased with a little competitive spirit.
The battle between classrooms to see which brings in the most cans is fierce, stoked by Mike Davis, the teacher who is organized the effort for the past decade.
His fifth-grade students go out and collect the cans from the other classrooms daily. They add the food to a growing pile just inside the school entrance, rush back to Davis' room and report how many cans each class contributed.
Their teacher writes up a daily report, replete with a good-natured ribbing for the class that contributes the lowest.
Most teachers read the report to their students, Davis said.
There's no award for the classroom that brings in the most cans, aside from the glory of having bested their companions.
But pity the kids who came empty-handed too often in November. They get what is known as "the beet lady," an anti-trophy of sorts.
Ten years ago, a student contributed a 5-pound can of beets to the drive. Thinking the can was a bit unwieldy -- "And who likes beets, anyway?" Davis joked -- the can now is a classroom decoration that must be avoided at all costs.
The students have gathered 3,700 cans already this month. They had hoped to collect the 50,000th can in the food drive's history by Thanksgiving, but Davis doesn't think they will quite reach that goal since the 10-year total now is around 46,500 cans.
Maybe somebody will step up like one girl's grandparents did last year.
"They bought pallets and pallets for her to take to class," Davis said, laughing at the memory. "Her classroom alone brought in 2,550 cans."
They probably just wanted to make sure their granddaughter didn't end up with the beet lady.
-- Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org