Teachers giving back: Spokane educators launch 'spirit competition' to raise money for SNAP

The coronavirus has cost millions of people their jobs, closed schools and threatened to cut teacher pay in some parts of the country.

That's all made a group of educators at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane feel fortunate that they've kept their jobs.

"I"m teaching full time. I've been teaching for a long time, I have a job right now that pays comfortably," says Mark Robbins, an English teacher at LC who has a side gig as the guy in those Northern Quest commercials. "I'm just in a position where I want to do something for other people."

Robbins reached out to another English teacher at LC, Jennifer Showalter and library clerk Andrea Bass, trying to figure out a way to help people in need. Their idea? Challenging other area schools to see which can raise the most money for people impacted by the economic crisis.

Called the "Keep the Lights On" spirit competition, community members can donate in the name of more than a dozen local high schools, with the end goal of raising $50,000 for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP). SNAP will use the donations to help families who can't pay their energy bills.

"My husband still works full time, I've been getting full pay for the work I've been doing every day," Showalter says in a video explaining the campaign. "We realized there are many more people who need that stimulus check." 

Anyone can donate by texting LIGHTSON to 71777, and they'll be allowed to donate under their high school's name. Knowing how enthusiastic some school staffers are about school spirit, Robbins hopes the competition part of it will drive more donations. The winning school may get some sort of prize, or at least the pride of winning.

"It's in the tradition of, 'We've got spirit, yes we do, we've got spirit how about you?'" Robbins says.

SNAP has seen twice the number of clients needing help paying their energy bill in recent weeks, says spokesperson Nicole Bishop. SNAP's energy assistance program helps pay those bills for clients facing a shutoff notice.

Bishop says SNAP greatly appreciates the fundraising campaign by educators. She sees generous community fundraisers regularly, but "this one really got to me."

"It's teachers working really hard to change their lesson plans on a dime, and yet they still see themselves in a place of privilege and want to give," Bishop says.

If other schools want to get involved, they can email spokanekeepthelightson@gmail.com. The campaign has a Facebook page too.

"We live in a community that's always been supportive of teachers," Robbins says. "We thought it was the responsible thing to work to give back."

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Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione is the Inlander’s news editor. Aside from writing and editing investigative news stories, he enjoys hiking, watching basketball and spending time with his wife and cat.