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Voyageurs students help needy by stopping landfill-bound goods

From left, Voyageurs Expeditionary High School students David LaDuke and Waylond O'Brien unload cases of soda donated from Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Bemidji Friday. The students have transported more than 1,000 pounds of donated beverages to the food shelf this year. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

In the beginning of the semester, John Babineau, a teacher at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School, asked Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Bemidji if it would donate items to the school for its incentive program.

Coca-Cola agreed and gave Babineau a portion of its damaged goods section, beverages that had damaged packing material or labels, to the school. Then a new idea sparked in Babineau's head.

"I thought, 'Why not take these damaged goods, which were otherwise going to the landfill, and give them to the food shelf?'" he said.

A partnership had formed between Voyageurs and Coca-Cola.

Every two weeks, Babineau and a few students drive to Coca-Cola's distributing warehouse and collect a pickup load of damaged goods, which they transport to the food shelf.

Waylond O'Brien, a 10th-grader at Voyageurs, recalls the look on the faces of workers at the food shelf when they saw the first load of beverages from Coca-Cola.

"They were overwhelmed," he said.

David LaDuke, also a student at Voyageurs, remembers being amazed at how much soda was in the Coca-Cola distributing warehouse. Both students jokingly agreed they had thought about what it would feel like to jump around and swim in the liquid held in the cases and cases of soda.

Babineau said it is important to him that the students understand all the ways they are helping to keep unspoiled goods out of the landfill, but also helping in other ways.

"We save some of the damaged goods for students to purchase at the school," he said. "The money goes towards fundraising for student projects."

In addition, Coca-Cola receives a $1-per-pound tax write-off for donating their goods to the food shelf.

"And it's cool we're helping people," LaDuke added.

On Friday, Babineau and students brought 336 pounds of beverages to the food shelf, where it goes directly to the gleaning shelves for anyone to take. Normally, he said, he transports between 600 and 700 pounds every two weeks.

"They take what has been damaged in stores and bring it over to the food shelf," said Coca-Cola owner Bev Stevens. "It saves me time and money from having to take it to the dump and it's going for a good cause. It's nice that they do that."

Babineau wants to start a similar project with Pepsi, but so far has been unable to attain donations of its damaged goods.