MARYSVILLE — For the students of Totem Middle School, their annual food drive that ran from Dec. 3-14 this year had an added significance, since they were striving to support the surrounding community while struggling to cope with the loss of a longtime friend.
Michele Sawyer, the community/family liaison for Totem Middle School, credited every homeroom class in the school with taking part and boosting the collection totals from an estimated 700 cans of food last year to 1,157 non-perishable items of food this year.
“A lot of that has to do with our Leadership kids,” Sawyer said. “They gathered up the food every morning and kept track of which classes were leading, in terms of food collected, because the classes who brought in the most food are getting donut and juice parties in the morning.”
Totem Middle School eighth-graders Meghan Barger, Cydney Rembold-Hyde, Lindsay Gann and Jamila Bojang were among those Leadership students. While Rembold-Hyde found it a challenge to corral the daily totals of food collected from each of the classrooms, Gann laughed as she deemed actually lifting the food to be the hardest part of the collection drive. Bojang believes the contest aspect of the food drive generated greater totals of donations, while Barger found it challenging to enlist as many participants as possible.
One stumbling block unique to this year, which no one saw coming, was the Dec. 12 passing of Brian McCutchen, at the age of 44, after suffering a brain aneurism on Dec. 11 from which he never recovered.
McCutchen served as head office manager at Totem Middle School for all five years that he was there, and Principal Robert Kalahan described him as irreplaceable.
“Before that, he was a bank manager at several banks, including Wells Fargo,” Kalahan said. “When I first interviewed him for the job here, I recognized him immediately but I didn’t know where from until I remembered that he’d been my banker and had helped me set up accounts for my kids. I even asked him what he was doing leaving banking and he told me his heart wasn’t in it because he wanted to affect changes in the lives of children.”
Kalahan praised McCutchen for bringing excellent managerial and customer service skills to Totem Middle School, and echoed Sawyer’s opinion that the students felt McCutchen’s loss so strongly because he’d developed such close bonds with them.
“It really threw them for a loop to lose Mr. McCutchen, especially in the midst of already running their food drive,” Sawyer said. “They’ve had to keep their spirits up.”
“The kids came to Brian with their problems because they knew him, and he would check up on them,” Kalahan said. “We had students who kept coming to school because they knew Brian would be here.”
Nearly 100 students visited Harborview Medical Center when McCutchen was moved there on the evening of Dec. 11, many of them football players who McCutchen as an assistant coach at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, and the students of Totem Middle School dedicated their food drive in his honor.
“It’s been heartbreaking,” Rembold-Hyde said. “Everybody loved him. He was a good man who was always helping others.”
“It’s been really hard to let go of him with people crying all around,” said Barger, who nonetheless agreed with her peers that they’re proud the food drive in McCutchen’s honor will help others have a happier holiday season.
“It lets us give back to the community that’s given so much to us,” Bojang said.
Those who wish to help out McCutchen’s surviving family can donate to BECU’s “Marcus and Jasmine McCutchen Fund,” or to the Schaefer-Shipman Funeral Home to cover his burial expenses.