Ximena Palacios, Julia McLaughlin, Izak Schimdlkofer, Jayna Hendricks, Sara Wiltsey and Sara Vetter sort bottles for the Cans for the Canyon bottle and can collection and food drive. (Courtesy Regis St. Mary Catholic School)
Ximena Palacios, Julia McLaughlin, Izak Schimdlkofer, Jayna Hendricks, Sara Wiltsey and Sara Vetter sort bottles for the Cans for the Canyon bottle and can collection and food drive. (Courtesy Regis St. Mary Catholic School)

STAYTON — Months after wildfires ravaged the Santiam Canyon, residents are still dealing with the aftermath. So what did the students, parents and staff at Regis St. Mary School do? They raised $10,000 and 930 pounds of food for the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund.

For the school’s community, the “Cans for the Canyon” effort was not in service to people in a far off place but to neighbors, friends and family who lost so much in the fires.

Candi Hedrick, high school principal at Regis St. Mary, knows how much her students love service projects.

“It’s the tangible part of the faith,” she said. “They really enjoy it.”

Hedrick, who lives in Lyons, said the fires had a tremendous impact on students. The fires started on Regis St. Mary’s first day of school. Families were forced to evacuate their homes. The sky glowed red and dangerous air hung around for weeks. One family lost everything.

“You could see it and it impacted you,” said Hedrick.

The Cans for the Canyon project provided an opportunity for the school to work with other schools and community members nearby. Folks from outside the Regis St. Mary community donated truckloads of cans and bottles they had collected, filling the 35-foot trailer.

“It really was like a mountain,” said Hedrick.

“I’m really, really proud of our whole community and the kids,” said Chris Chris Vancauteren, academic dean at the high school. “You want to make a difference in the world. Even if it’s a small.”

Nancy Stuckart and her husband provided hours upon hours of volunteer work with the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief store, which has been operating out of the Knights of Columbus St. Anthony Hall in Sublimity. Stuckart, who has a daughter at Regis St. Mary, thought the Cans for the Canyon idea would be an opportunity for the community to help friends and neighbors affected by the fires. Regis St. Mary has students who live in Lyons and Mill City, which were both heavily damaged.

When a school is affiliated with the Catholic Church, one of its missions is to teach the students to serve, said Vancauteren.

“To put our Catholic faith into action is really what you’re trying to do,” he added. “It’s important for us to share the mission we have.”

The bottle collection and food drive brought in $8,822.80 in bottle drop deposits and $1,177.20 in cash donations. More than 50 Regis students, staff and parent volunteers sorted, bagged and stacked around 90,000 cans and bottles. One couple, Nikki and Derek Schumacher, donated the use of a 35-foot-long trailer. Jim Kingsberry, the mayor of Sublimity, as well as Ken and Janna Adams and Jacob Adams, transported bottles to the bottle drop in Eugene. Another community member, Ron Gower, provided signage for the event and Richard Van Cauteren headed up bottle collection. Stuckart became known as an expert bottle sorter.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org