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Spurred by pandemic, two Central Valley High seniors help collect bulk of annual food drive

Central Valley High School seniors Prateek Sherma, left, and Branden Williams teamed up to collect 2,020 food items in the school’s annual food drive to benefit nonprofit Spokane Valley Partners.  (Courtesy)
Central Valley High School seniors Prateek Sherma, left, and Branden Williams teamed up to collect 2,020 food items in the school’s annual food drive to benefit nonprofit Spokane Valley Partners. (Courtesy)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

It’s an annual tradition for the students at Central Valley High School to do a November food drive to benefit Spokane Valley Partners.

The stars of this year’s effort were seniors Prateek Sherma and Branden Williams, who teamed up to collect 2,020 items to reflect the year 2020.

The two started working together on the food drive their freshman year. Williams confessed that he was initially in it for the extra credit one of his teachers gave to students who participated.

“After one year of doing it for extra credit, we thought we could do better, so why not shoot for the stars?” he said.

They increased their collection every year. This time their goal was 1,000 nonperishable food items to be given away in Thanksgiving food baskets to those in need. With that in mind, the two put their sights even higher.

“We just want to make a difference this year,” Williams said.

Sherma said they knew more people would need help this year because of the pandemic.

“The pandemic drove us this year,” he said. “We knew so many people were in need.”

The two devoted eight hours to walking the neighborhood to collect donations. That’s what they do every year, but this year it was different. They wore masks and stood at a distance when people answered the door. They pushed a wagon close to the door and invited people to put donations into the wagon.

“We made sure we were safe and everyone else was safe,” Sherma said.

They quickly noticed a difference in who gave and how much they gave.

“Some people weren’t able to donate this year,” he said.

But Sherma recalls one man who was tickled to find the two students on his doorstep.

“He was so excited we were doing this, he went and emptied his whole pantry,” he said.

Both were pleased at the results of their efforts this year.

“It really changes your perspective on how you can make a difference,” Sherma said.

The changes in giving applied to cash donations this year as well, CVHS leadership teacher Leanne Donley said. Some gave more because they knew the need was greater this year, Donley said. Another family she knows personally, who have been struggling, gave $7.

“This was the last $7 in their wallet,” she said.

CV has held the food drive every year since 1997. This year, for the first time, University High School also joined the effort.

“Looking at what’s going on in the world, we just figured it was better to join forces,” Donley said.

Though the food drive still went on as planned this year, participation was down and most students didn’t go door to door like usual, Donley said.

“There were so many safety protocols we had to go through,” she said.

The drive usually nets about 20,000 pounds of food and $10,000 cash, all of which is given directly to the Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank.

The drive ended Friday and the final numbers aren’t in yet, but Donley estimates they collected about 5,200 pounds of food. It just wasn’t possible to get near their usual 20,000 with the limitations in place this year, she said, but the students did collect $10,540 in cash donations.

U-Hi leadership teacher Samantha Kern said in an email Tuesday that U-Hi students collected close to 3,000 pounds of food and at her school were able to fill three large barrels with donated food three times last week. They also collected and more than $2,000 $2,174 in cash donations.

“For a first round, that’s pretty good,” Kern said.

The schools will continue their partnership next year because it’s obvious that they can make a bigger difference by working together, Donley said.

“This is not a competition,” she said. “Helping our community, you do it because it’s right.”

Nina Culver can be reached at

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