The Paducah Power System School Challenge is in its 12th year of providing nonperishable foods to those in need, and this year, the number of schools taking part equals the record of 16 set in 2017.
The School Challenge began Monday. Students will bring nonperishable food items to their schools through Dec. 18 to help area people in need.
On Dec. 18, PPS employees will go to each school and bring their food collections back to Paducah Power System to be weighed and distributed.
Donations from this and all of the PPS Christmas food drive events will go to four area food agencies: Family Service Society, Paducah Cooperative Ministry, St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and the Salvation Army.
"The school that has the most pounds of food per student will be the winner," PPS spokeswoman Andrea Underwood said.
Since 2016, schools have been divided into large and small school divisions. Last year, Concord Elementary won the large school division with 18.2 pounds of food donated per student and Heath Elementary won the small school division with 14.6 pounds per student.
Concord Elementary has won that division in each of the last three years, and Assistant Principal Gena Karnes attributes that to a strong sense of competition and philanthropy among students. From 2016 to 2018, CES donations averaged almost 16 pounds of food per student.
"The year before last, we had nine of those big bins right there full," she said, indicating a large bin where students put their donations. "Last year, we had 11 of them.
"They want to win, but also, they know what it's for, and they know that we are really fortunate here, to have the things that they have."
Karnes said Concord Elementary now has a "house" system similar to McCracken County High School, and the school will have homeroom and house competitions, rewarding those that bring in the most food.
The School Challenge went over the 300,000-pound grand total mark last year, when 14 schools brought in a Challenge record of 41,240 pounds of food. Over the last five years alone, students have brought in 202,635 pounds of that grand total; 77,545 pounds were brought in over the last two years.
"It's just so humbling to see how well the kids and the teachers and staff at the schools have embraced this program -- how hard they work to help us out," Underwood said. "They do wonderful work, and it's a busy time of the year for them. They have a lot of things that they are trying to squeeze in and do before the Christmas break, and we are always really grateful that they take the time and the opportunity to help people in the midst of all that.
"We want the community to know just how much they do and what a big part of Christmas in the Park they are. We're so proud of them."
Underwood said the total amount of food brought in through the School Challenge and Christmas in the Park over the years could exceed 1 million pounds this year.
"We're hoping that the number of schools (taking part in the School Challenge) and whatever the community does for us (with Christmas in the Park) will help us to make it a million this year," she said. "We're excited about the possibility of that."