Domino effect

·4 min read

Jun. 13—Surpassing a world record, albeit unofficially, a Central Point elementary school — in dramatic fashion — collected enough cereal boxes to stock a local hunger nonprofit's shelves for much of the summer.

Despite setbacks and surprises, the effort that started with one teacher and nine students cast ripple effects that extended beyond Mae Richardson Elementary School and ACCESS. Students inspired to help their community donated funds to other organizations serving kids and hosted a food drive that surpassed organizers' wildest expectations.

A grand total of 6,877 cereal boxes — carefully arranged like dominoes throughout the school campus — were knocked down in dramatic style to the delight of a jubilant crowd in the hundreds Friday evening. The display surpassed a 2021 Guinness World Record set at a middle school in Long Beach, New York by 486 boxes. (Corrected)

According to Mae Richardson fourth-grade teacher Melody Thueson and ACCESS Food Programs Manager Marcee Champion, the stash of breakfast cereals is a roughly two-month supply for the local hunger nonprofit that serves 1 in 5 Jackson County residents.

Champion was nearly speechless when she saw the elementary school's commons filled with row after row of Frosted Mini Wheats, Lucky Charms, Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs and more arranged in the hallway.

"It's amazing!" she exclaimed.

Combined, Thueson estimates the cereal donations to be worth about $21,000 and spanned a mile long. About 4,500 of the boxes were donated by elementary school students and their families, with the bulk of the remainder donated by Sherm's Food 4 Less and Thunderbird Market.

"These kids got excited making a difference in the community," Thueson said.

Thueson and another organizer, however, said Sherm's did far more to help than make donations.

According to PTA member Kellie Hobbs, who first reached out to the locally owned grocery chain, the grocery store held a caseload sale of its store brand Essential Everyday cereal at $1.18 a box — making it easy for parents to pitch in — and created flyers and store displays promoting the effort.

"They really did a lot," Hobbs said.

Thueson said the effort started with her Community 101 Club at the school and nine elementary students. The after-school program in its first year — a partnership with Oregon Community Foundation — provided kids with lessons on philanthropy and community involvement. OCF also gave the club $5,000 to spend on good causes of their choosing.

"Our kids decided they wanted to help families with children with food, clothing and necessary materials," Thueson said.

Over the past year, the kids learned how to talk to adults, how to build and create consensus and how to engage in discussions respectfully, then learned about multiple Southern Oregon nonprofits that help local kids and parents.

According to parent Tonya Kockx, whose fourth-grade daughter, Kenzli, was part of Community 101, the program made powerful impacts on her daughter that spread to the greater community.

"It just shows the kids how much community involvement is available for something you believe in," Kockx said, wondering aloud how the kids are going to give to the community next year.

Thueson said the kids ultimately chose to donate $3,000 to Community Works after learning about its Dunn House Shelter for families and children escaping domestic violence, $2,000 to CASA of Jackson County, and to hold a food drive helping ACCESS. She never imagined the kids would collect more than 6,000 cereal boxes.

"I was thinking we'd get 1,000 boxes — a thousand," Thueson said. "Then Sherm's really blew it out of the park."

According to an announcement just prior to the main event from Principal Katrina Douglas, the number of boxes collected came to 6,175 boxes

According to Guinness World Records, that's ahead of the record 6,391 boxes set May 26, 2021, by Long Beach Middle School in Long Beach, New York. The New York record, however, will still stand in the record books because the school and Guinness were unable to arrange a certified record attempt in time for the event.

The event ties in with ACCESS' annual childhood nutrition fundraiser, kicking off this week. Find a donation envelope and more details inside Sunday's Mail Tribune, or see accesshelps.org/donate/

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.

Correction, June 13: The version of this story printed Sunday incorrectly stated that Mae Richardson Elementary School narrowly missed the cereal dominoes record with 6,175 boxes collected. That number did not count 752 boxes inside the school's gymnasium. The 6,877 surpassed the official record of 6,391 boxes last year in Long Beach, New York.