A local 9-year-old is taking matters into her own hands to end hunger.

When Harper Claybundy realized there is a need for food resources in Koochiching County, she decided to organize a food drive for the Falls Hunger Coalition.

“I was watching on TV a bunch of people that were getting healthcare workers and other people food,” she said of a clip she saw on the Disney Channel. “And I see when the line to Ruby’s Pantry is really long... I wanted to help out in our area.”

The third grader at Littlefork-Big Falls School appeared to be a little shy, but confident in her endeavor. Her parents, Carrie and Adam Claybundy, were noticeably proud.

“She’s a little girl with a big heart,” Carrie said. “She amazes me.”

The first day of Harper’s food drive earlier this month raised $800 and donations have since been pouring in. As of Saturday, Harper’s efforts brought in over 150 pounds of food and $3,660, which includes a $2,500 donation from Packaging Corporation of America.

“It’s just been incredible,” Carrie said. “We never imagined it would turn into what it did.”

When Harper made up her mind to organize the food drive. Carrie said there was no stopping her. At first, the couple was unaware just how serious their daughter was. But a persistent Harper gathered her art supplies to begin making posters for the effort.

“We saw she was serious and we agreed to do what we could to help her out,” Carrie said.

As the administrator at Good Samaritan Society – International Falls, Carrie placed a collection box at the facility, but Harper wanted to reach other areas of the county, too.

“We’re from the Indus area and she wanted to cover all areas around us,” Carrie said.

Nelson’s Store in Birchdale took a collection box as did Wimmer’s Body Shop in Littlefork. The effort was off to a good start, so both Carrie and Adam gave it a nudge on social media.

That’s when monetary donations started rolling in.

“My cousin in Florida sent money,” Carrie said. “That led to family members both from the area and from outside the area sending money... People are contributing to help a community they don’t even belong to. It’s just heartwarming.”

Adam noted the couple belong to the Kannonball Charity Rally, and many of their friends in that group also donated to Harper’s cause.

“(The organization) consists of teams from the Midwest, who are game for giving to a good cause and enjoying fine cars, trucks and travel,” he said.

Carrie agreed.

“A lot of people in our Kannonball family gave $100 each,” she said. “They recognized a little human making a big difference.”

Stretching the dollar

At first, the Claybundys were unsure if Ashley Hall, director of the Falls Hunger Coalition, preferred monetary donations or if the family should use the money to buy food to donate. While food is always gladly accepted, Hall said money can actually be more beneficial.

Hall explained she can purchase food from Second Harvest North Central, the Falls Hunger Coalition’s food bank in Grand Rapids, at a lesser cost than she could at grocery stores.

“That’s not to say grocery stores don’t help us out, they’re absolutely wonderful,” Hall said. “But I can buy a case of green beans at Second Harvest for only $1.50 for 12-20 cans. We can stretch a dollar much further with our resources.”

Seeing Harper’s motivation triggers a lot of emotions for Hall.

“I could tear up just thinking about it,” she said of Harper’s efforts. “The fact that something like this is on a 9-year-old’s radar is amazing... This is something that is built into Harper and it’s incredible.”

Bigger and better

Harper has no plans of making this only a one-time effort. In fact, she hopes to go bigger and better the next go around.

When Carrie asked her daughter if she wanted to name the effort something, she suggested choosing a verb starting with the letter “H” to connect Harper and hunger. Not having her mother’s recommendation, Harper went in more of a to-the-point direction.

“I want it to be Harper Ends Hunger,” she said, smiling. “I want to get a shirt that says that.”

The effort fills the third grader with motivation and excitement.

“I had goosebumps on my toes and butterflies in my stomach,” Harper said of how she was feeling when she told her teacher, Mrs. Anderson, about what she was doing. “And she said she was really proud of me.”

Carrie and Adam are proud of their daughter, too.

“Harper has always had a big heart,” Carrie said. “We’re so grateful to everyone near and far who have donated to Harper’s cause to help people in our community.”

Hall challenged Koochiching County residents to strive to be more like Harper.

“I just wish every person in our county would act like Harper,” she said. “If there’s something you want to change... whatever strikes a chord in your heart, go after it. Follow Harper’s lead.”

While Harper’s food drive officially ended Sunday, Hall said donations can still be made in the youngster’s honor.

“If people want to write her name in the memo section of their checks, we’ll add that to her total,” Hall said. “We’re always accepting donations.”

For more information, contact the Falls Hunger Coalition at 218-283-8020.