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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘We wanted to do something’: Spokane-area high schools compete to help families with unpaid energy bills

With more families suffering financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators throughout Spokane County are raising money to help residents with their power bills.

They’re also trying to have some fun in the process by turning the effort into a competition among area high schools.

Called the “Keep the Lights On” spirit competition, it encourages community members to donate in the name of more than a dozen local high schools.

It also might earn a prize for the school that earns the most money.

The goal is to raise at least $50,000 for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners.

SNAP will use the donations to help families with unpaidenergy bills, which have grown to total about $37,000.

Many of those bills are unpaid because the COVID-19 pandemic has led to job losses within those families.

The idea began at Lewis and Clark High School, where English teachers Mark Robbins – the guy in the Northern Quest commercials – and Jennifer Showalter and clerk Andrea Bass decided to reach out.

“Part of it is that we wanted to do something that will directly connect with our families,” said Robbins, who has a high-schooler at home and knows firsthand the struggles teens have endured during the long spell of social distancing.

“I see the struggles of being a kid outside of school who is making a go at his distance learning in spite of how hard it is when you don’t have your peers with you,” Robbins said.

At the same time, the trio realized how lucky they are to have jobs during the pandemic.

“My husband still works full time, (and) I’ve been getting full pay for the work I’ve been doing every day,” Showalter said in a YouTube video explaining the campaign.

“We realized there are many more people who need that stimulus check,” Showalter said.

The trio considered helping Second Harvest or another group.

“Those are a big part of what I see with students in need but don’t really lend themselves to a competition,” Robbins said. “And we didn’t want to compete with that or take away from that mission.”

With most families stuck at home, the trio turned to social media.

Keep the Lights On has a Facebook page with instructions on how to donate through each high school.

Anyone can donate by texting “LIGHTSON” to 71777, and they’ll be allowed to donate under their high school’s name.

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