This Hits Different, Episode 64: Armstrong student-athletes win WPIAL food drive competition

Shelby Cassesse tells the story of Armstrong, which won the WPIAL’s fall food drive.

In today’s episode of This Hits Different, Shelby Cassesse tells the story of Armstrong School District, which won the WPIAL’s fall food drive.

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Entering the second year of the WPIAL fall food drive, the student athletes at Armstrong knew they wanted to do it up big.

“Mr. (Jake) Kanish set us a goal, he said we are going to definitely hang a banner this year for winning the food drive,” says MacKenzie Flick, a student at Armstrong High School.

The league challenges all of its schools to raise donations for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, crowning winners for each class.

Flick and Emma Smerick were part of the small group behind Armstrong's effort, meeting several times, putting hours into helping those less fortunate.

“A lot of thought, a lot of process, a lot of strategy,” says Mackenzie.

“A lot of counting,” adds Jake Kanish, the school’s co-Athletic Director.

They held several food drives at sporting events - all leading up to their biggest collection event, stuff a van, at their homecoming football game.

The community answered the call, donating both food and money.

Their efforts provided an extra 12,392 meals for the food bank. Mackenzie remembers hearing that number for the first time.

“I thought that we raised a lot of food,” she says. “But, you know, you never thought that you’ve raised that much food. But the, once he tallied it all together and we all came together and he told us how much money we raised, plus the amount of food that the community gave, I was in awe and definitely in shock.”

Once the drive ended, the 25-plus participating schools waited to hear the final results.

Jake got the news first.

“It was a nice, exciting moment for us,” Jake says. “It was like a year-long goal. We discussed it for almost a year.”

Armstrong not only won class 5A, they raised the most of any participating school.

Emma says they weren't quite sure what to make of it when their small group got called to the principals office that day. But it turned out to be the best news possible.

“I had a feeling that we could win, but winning the whole things was pretty special — plus giving back to the community,” she says.

Class winners also included Seneca Valley, Knoch, Mohawk, Winchester Thurston and Redeemer Lutheran School.

The food drive as a whole provided over 67,000 meals to the food bank, exactly what the WPIAL had hoped for when they launched the event last year, according to spokesperson Ethan Woy.

“We’re just trying to make our communities better places,” Ethan says. “Seeing that kind of excitement is all we want from our member schools.”

And will leave Mackenzie and Emma with a feeling they'll carry with them well after high school.

“Thinking of the bigger picture and who all you can help with how much money you raise or how much food you’ve donated, bigger picture, is that you’re helping people who need and maybe won’t have food,” Emma says.

Mackenzie adds: “You know when you have the feeling when you do something good, and your heart is full, and you feel like that was wonderful not just to be noticed but to give back to the community that needs you.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Armstrong School District