Joining ‘Hands Across the Gorge’

Middle schools work together to fight hunger

It will be no ordinary field trip.

To relieve local hunger, middle school students from Hood River and Skamania counties will link up in “Hands Across the Gorge” on Oct. 24, spanning the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks.

If middle schoolers are a cliquish bunch, you wouldn’t know it from the quintet of Hood River Middle School girls who are working with students at three other schools on the four-school event as a benefit for local food banks.

“One person can make a difference, no matter their age. It’s just determination,” said Sierra Geddis, one of the eighth graders who have been planning the 450-student Hands Across the Gorge effort for nearly a year, after classroom discussions about the nagging problem of hunger in the Pacific Northwest.

The kids wanted to go beyond talk and do something about it.

But other schools needed to get involved, both to accomplish it without draining the classrooms of an entire school but, more specifically, to reflect the Gorge-wide problem of hungry families.

So the HRMS committee contacted Wy’east and Cascade Locks middle schools, and Wind River Middle School in Stevenson, Wash. Students at all four schools are now gathering donations in hopes of being among the representatives to stand on the Bridge of the Gods — rain or shine — in the cross-river campaign, and enjoy a barbecue afterwards.

“Students are motivated if they get to do something,” Sierra said. The honor goes to the top 50 money-raisers from each of the sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes at Wy’east and HRMS. Wind River and Cascade Locks, with somewhat smaller student populations, will send 100 and 50 students, respectively. The schools will need to hold drawings if more than 50 students from each class raise $50 or more; all students raising at least $50 will be rewarded with a commemorative t-shirt. All proceeds go to local food banks.

Hands Across the Gorge will happen from about 10:30 a.m. to noon. The Cascade Locks bridge was chosen because it has a pedestrian sidewalk. For safety purposes, law enforcement officers on both sides of the river will slow traffic on the bridge, and staff and parent volunteers will also be on hand.

“Hands Across the Gorge” dates to about a year ago as two groups of HRMS students in Jack Sprague’s “Making A Difference” class simultaneously brainstormed ways to communally combat hunger in Oregon, and to raise awareness that Oregon and Washington have the highest rates of hunger among all states. They had studied “Hands Across America,” an effort in 1986 to form a nationwide human chain to fight hunger.

The Hood River Middle School students learned of their mutual idea and joined forces. Katie McMasters is credited with first coming up with the idea, and giving it the localized name.

“I think it will help raise awareness,” Katie said, “and show that anyone can help. That one person can make a difference.”

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