BEDFORD — As the scoreboard at Pennington Field ticked down to zero and the home side of the stadium roared its approval, everything seemed commonplace. The Trinity Trojan football team walked away from the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District’s annual rivalry game with another lopsided win, and Lawrence D. Bell High School went home with another $1,000 check from 6 Stones. The 2016 Black and Blue Food Drive saw the Blue side of the district maintain their formidable grip on HEB ISD’s charitable bragging rights; once again gathering more food relief supplies than their counterparts in black. Despite the appearance of continuity, however, a few things changed this year.
First executed as an isolated event in 2011, the Black and Blue Food Drive unites schools across Hurst, Euless, and Bedford — along with elementary schools in Arlington and Fort Worth — through friendly competition. The Food Drive stretches across three weeks, with each campus collecting their own supply of canned goods and boxed food. These donations are picked up by 6 Stones volunteers and redistributed into the HEB community through the New Hope Center. Winners are then selected at four levels — elementary, junior high, high school, and district — based on per capita donations. The campus that averages the most items donated per student within their division receives a $1,000 check from 6 Stones.
In the last five years, students from 28 HEB schools have donated 277,457 food items to the New Hope Center through this annual competition. While the 2015 drive brought in a record number of goods (72,249, as compared to this year’s tally: 66,490), the school district set a new record for contributions by weight in 2016. This year’s haul checked in at 51,356 pounds — almost 10,000 more than the previous record — suggesting that the individual items donated were more substantive than in years past.
The new record wasn’t the only thing that changed. The Black and Blue Food Drive has, historically, been dominated by a select group of competitors. Since converting to the current competitive format in 2012, the drive has seen only a handful of schools claim top honors. Bedford Junior High, the campus that launched the first drive in 2011, won every contest that followed. Donna Park Elementary executed a similar run in the grade school division of the contest, finishing first in every drive but one. L.D. Bell has only ever lost at the high school level because of an oversight in regulations that gave the KEYS Learning Center a distinct advantage over the district's larger, more traditional high schools when counting per-capita donations.
Two of those dynasties fell this year.
Donna Park, which has been the standard-bearer for the Drive since its inception, finished with an impressive 10,013 items in 2016; an average of 19.6 donations per student, the same incredible tally the Parrots average every year. They lost to the only school that had ever dethroned them previously: River Trails Elementary. The district’s only school in Fort Worth brought in a whopping 12,272 donations for a per capita tally of 20.3. The Tigers had set their goal at 20 cans per student this year, knowing they'd have to beat Donna Park's annual mark.
“I’m really proud of our students. 12,000 cans is amazing!” said River Trails principal Tammy Daggs. “I’m also proud to be a part of HEB ISD, and of our partnership with 6 Stones. I think it’s amazing how many opportunities we have to work together for our students and families in HEB ISD.”
During the Black and Blue Food Drive, working together as a district usually means working toward bragging rights within the district. In fact, the drive’s competitive format boosted a new school into the winner’s circle this year. Formerly a non-contender, Hurst Junior High broke the longest-running win streak in the history of the contest. Hurst Principal Liz Russo credits the victory, in part, to a video message from district staff that originated here at 6 Stones. In that video, Bedford Junior High Principal Michael Martinak confidently invited other schools to attempt to break the Bronco’s undefeated streak. Administrators at Hurst were more than happy to respond to the challenge.
“We have a healthy rivalry,” Russo said. “We decided that we couldn’t let that video be out there without some sort of rebuttal, so we challenged our kids to 10 cans per kid. They stepped it up.”
With an average of 6.64 donations per student, the Raiders wrestled the Food Drive title away from their Bedford rivals. Hurst claimed their first ever win by a margin of three-tenths of a can, one of the closest differentials on record. To do it, they had to gather seven times more items they had ever tallied previously: 7,286, to be exact.
“They challenged us because they do a great job every year,” Russo said of Bedford Junior High. “It is truly just all in good fun. They’re awesome and they always have tons of cans, so they set the bar high for us.”
Next Fall, Hurst Junior High will be setting the bar. Until then, each of the winners have bragging rights and one thousand new dollars to invest in their students. More importantly, they have the satisfaction of knowing that struggling families in the area have a reliable food source. In a district where the majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, access to that kind of support is essential. Thanks to our students — the same students who sometimes go hungry themselves — 6 Stones is ready to serve local families who find their cupboards bare this winter.