ASHLAND — When four Ashland High School seniors went to elementary schools this month to announce a districtwide food drive that starts today, they told the children their donations likely will go to feed some of their classmates.

ASHLAND — When four Ashland High School seniors went to elementary schools this month to announce a districtwide food drive that starts today, they told the children their donations likely will go to feed some of their classmates.

"I told them that the person they're helping could be the kid sitting next to them in class," said Yeruti Estigarribia, who is organizing the drive with Nayeon Kim, Sadie Shelton and Annika Hearn.

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank expects to serve more than 600 Ashland and Talent households this month, a record amount, said Liz Cooper, president of the food bank's board of directors.

That means about 6 percent of Ashland and Talent residents, or 1,700 people, likely will receive assistance from the food bank in November, more than in any month in the food bank's history, she said. About 40 percent of people the food bank serves are children, Cooper said.

"It's extraordinarily relevant and appropriate that the students are holding this food drive because so many of our clients are children," she said.

The four seniors, all co-presidents of the high school's Global Citizen Corps club, said they wanted to organize a food drive because they've noticed the need increasing in the community and at their school.

"Hunger is a reality in Ashland and whenever we can, it's important to share, even if it's just one little can," Kim said.

The drive begins today at all district schools and runs through Dec. 14.

To motivate students, the seniors decided to make the drive a competition between the schools. They'll count the number of items each school collects and divide by the number of students at the school to determine the winner.

Representatives from the winning school will be honored at a high school assembly in December.

"I'm thrilled that they're organizing this," said Principal Michelle Zundel. "I think it's an extremely important cause and it's exciting to see them encouraging their fellow students to get involved."

Although food and monetary donations have held steady so far this year, the food bank continues to seek support, because hunger is on the rise, Cooper said.

"We're seeing plenty of very anxious people, especially with the cold weather and heating bills that are going to be kicking up and causing more problems for people to afford," she said.

The food bank served 1,560 people in August, a record the nonprofit is on track to break this month, Cooper said.

She anticipates the need for food donations will remain high next year.

"We're expecting that our numbers will be pretty high for 2011 because unemployment numbers don't seem to be going anywhere fast," she said. "I think there will continue to be a heightened need in the next year."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.