A food fight at a school never sounded like a good idea —until it sounded like the best idea ever.

It was 2016 and the shelves at The Pantry at Hamilton Mill United Methodist Church were empty. Perennially, August is a difficult time for food pantries and often food stock is low, if not non-existent. Susan Lang was the director of The Pantry at that time and she was not sure how she was going to keep the doors open.

That’s when her son, Robert Philo, said he had an idea. He was a senior at Mill Creek High School and the president of the student council, and he proposed challenging Mill Creek’s rival school — Dacula High School — to a food collection competition. Dacula High agreed and the Friday Night Food Fight was born.

That year, more than 45,000 pounds of food was collected for the food pantry.

“I really couldn’t believe it,” Lang said. “I thought the schools might collect 10,000 pounds if we were lucky. I underestimated the power of the kids in our community. They collected enough food that year to provide meals for those in need for months. It was an incredible blessing.”

In the years since then, the Friday Night Food Fight has become a fall tradition around the county. The original schools have challenged other Gwinnett County schools and this year, Friday Night Food Fight consisted of four different rounds.

In addition to Dacula and Mill Creek, this year participants also included the Collins Hill, Lanier, Mountain View, Norcross, Peachtree Ridge, and South Gwinnett clusters schools and each cluster worked to collect food for their local food pantries.

In the five years prior to 2021, participating schools had collected over half a million pounds of food for people in the community in need. This year, in particular, the need was even greater for food pantries as the pandemic continued into its second year. And the students responded.

Each participating school was able to use Friday Night Food Fight as a platform to help students recognize food insecurity within their own communities and to empower them to take action to address the need. The schools worked tirelessly in creative and exciting ways to highlight the needs and to bring in donations.

And at the end of the final round this past Friday night, the result was nothing short of incredible. Lang said. Together, the schools and their clusters collected over 140,000 pounds of food for food pantries within Gwinnett county.

Mary Warren, the Director of Community Outreach at the North Gwinnett Co-Op who was one of the recipients of this year’s donations said, “We sincerely appreciate everyone’s efforts helping us at a critical time for food. It was such a successful event and the kids were amazing. We can’t wait until next year.”

Philo, who has since graduated from the University of Georgia, still works to provide graphics for the food fights each year. When asked about his food fight legacy, he was quick to give credit to students who have expanded on his original idea.

“A good idea in the mind of one person can make a impact. But that same idea in the mind of a group of people dedicated to making it a reality just might change the world as we know it,” he said. “I’m super proud of the continued effort by all the students in our community.”

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