Tyler Anderson holds a strong opinion about the school lunch program in the State of Iowa. He does not believe, regardless of the condition of the overall economy, that children should be punished for their parents’ financial burdens. No child should go hungry.
However, Anderson does not have the time or resources to lobby the legislature, nor the inclination. He is not a lobbyist. He is a man of action. To solve the problem, he is setting an example.
He is also a demolition derby enthusiast. Somehow, Anderson has brought demos and lunch accounts together.
The Wayne Community School District has a high percentage of its students in the reduced lunch program. Approximately 55 to 60 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunches, which is equivalent to roughly 320 to 350 students. Many of those reduced lunch accounts are delinquent.
“For junior high and high school students, once they get to a significant level of a negative balance, they are not offered a meal, but they can purchase anything with cash,” said Superintendent Dave Daughton. “Elementary students always get a meal, regular or alternative. In addition, any student that qualifies for a free meal always gets a meal.”
This is not quite far enough for Anderson. But instead of complaining, he is giving back, even though he does not have any children attending Wayne.
“What’s a third-grade kid going to do about that? He can’t tell his mom or dad they need to go pay if they can’t,” Anderson said. “I don’t feel it’s right. That’s why I’m doing it.
“There a lot of people who are victims of things that’s not their fault. Some of them might be working two jobs and still can’t make ends meet. It’s not because they’re lazy, it’s not because they’re not trying, it’s just a situation they might’ve been thrown into that they didn’t plan on, and they’re doing what they can. I figured I’d try and help out a little bit.
“I was at work at the time,” Anderson said of when the idea popped into his head.
He is a welder at Shivvers Manufacturing, and as a hobby, he competes in demolition derbies. He rode in his first when he was 14.
“I build my own cars, and I go out to wreck them,” Anderson said.
He graduated from Wayne Community High School in 2010, before attending college for automotive technology. His father, Kenny Anderson, is a maintenance worker at Wayne, and he got Tyler started in demolition derbies.
“The adrenaline rush is the best,” Tyler said. “I’ve done circle track, I’ve done drag cars—I’ve done a lot of automotive sports where your goal is to be faster than somebody else. With demo, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s a lot riskier, in a sense, than a lot of other motor sports.
“I like the adrenaline high—it’s a thrill, because you might have one good run, and you might have a run where something bad happens first hit. You can’t control it.
“I ran it by the couple of guys I demo with on my team. They backed it and thought it was a good idea. They said, ‘Let’s do it.’ They’ve got an idea for the next one. The ultimate goal is to help more people. Everybody needs a little help sometimes.
“Two of the guys run cars with us for the team events, and then a few of their friends and family help. One of them has muscular dystrophy. He is one of the hardest workers you’ve ever seen, but he can’t do a lot. I think I’m going to try to do something for that cause next, just because it’s close to us. He’s there every show and always helping.”
In Anderson’s first week, he raised $1,200.
“The last time I talked to the school, I told them I had $900 as of right now,” Anderson said.
Anderson went straight to the administration, arranging the technicalities with Secondary Principal Stacy Snyder, Elementary Principal Boyd Sinclair, and Superintendent Dave Daughton.
“When I talked to Stacy, she seemed really surprised,” Anderson said. “It’s something I felt I needed to do, so I did it.”
From there, the school administrators and office workers will find the best way to divide the money among the many students in need.
“I went from running big cars to small cars, so I have a lot of extra stuff,” Anderson said. “I don’t use it anymore, so I thought I’d try to raise a little money, do something good.
“Then I thought how there are a lot of kids who have negative accounts. It’s a poorer community—a lot of southern Iowa is. So, I thought I’d make a couple hundred bucks and give it to the school.
“And then when I posted that, I had around 35 shares on Facebook in a day. I had a whole bunch of guys that derby and race blow up on it—there was another fabricator who makes parts, and he said, ‘I want to chip in.’ A guy that makes racecar door wraps and decals jumped in. They all donated stuff, which I wasn’t planning on.”
From there, things snowballed.
“That night, I worked things out and figured how I was going to do it,” Anderson said. “I had hundreds of dollars that night already flowing in, which I thought was pretty impressive.
“I run fully-modified classes. Everything takes a lot more time to build. I custom built a set of rims and a good set of tires, and I said I’d just raffle them off. That’s how it started. These other guys chipped in with different parts they built for their cars.
“I never thought it’d get as much publicity as it did. I figured it might be a hit with the local guys from Albia and Ottumwa—around the area I do demos—and then I had a whole bunch of people in the community say, ‘Hey, can we just donate?’
“I said, ‘I didn’t plan on that, but I guess.’ Then it just got bigger and bigger.
“I did two live raffles on Facebook. I had donations come in from five different states—one being New York—which I thought was pretty impressive. It got a lot of hype in a small amount of time. It turned out to be a really good thing.
“For the high school, we also bought two yearbooks for seniors, and then two yearbooks for junior high [students]. The rest is going to the lunch accounts to pay off for the elementary and the high school.
“It’s a good feeling, because I didn’t expect to do over $200 or $300. Then, when I reached $1,200 in a week—$1,200 isn’t a lot of money in today’s world, but it’s better than zero. It’s better than sitting at home working on my car in my garage, tripping over a set of tires I can’t use.
“I had some people ask me why I didn’t just sell them and put money toward what I’m building now. There are plenty of things I need to buy for my car before I go into this season. It’s worth more to me to be able to help 30 kids. It’s worth more to me emotionally. Money is money. There are people who have more money than me, and there are people who have less money than me. If I need it, then I’ll go out and work for it.”
“Like I said in my video, it seems like there is a lot of darkness and negativity in our world today,” Anderson said. “I feel it takes a harder toll on small areas like Wayne County. Everybody knows everybody—if somebody doesn’t want to get along, they won’t.”
Much of that negativity can be attributed to social media websites such as Facebook. It gets worse the more anonymous the user can be on a website, whether it be trolls who stir trouble for the sake of chaos, or the ability to bully and harass with impunity.
“I personally hate social media,” Anderson said. “There are so many unsocial things about it.”
But he added that anyone who wants to help or has ideas to help others can contact him via Facebook. Like any technology, it is a matter of intent. Facebook can be used for either good or evil.
Anderson chose to post a video to help others.
“I’m not one to make a big deal out of things—that’s not who I am. But then I thought this might be just the right experience to reach a few more people.
“It’s always good to not do things in the light, to just let people have that good experience. But then there are sometimes you need to be vocal about it, because it’ll reach more people that might end up being on your team later.
“I didn’t want it to be this public in the beginning, per se, and then I had a lot of people I didn’t know talk to me about it. If it’s reached this many people—from me just throwing something up on my personal Facebook—it’s good to show people there is still good left in a small community.
“There is good and bad in any place. But if people can see there’s more good than bad, then everybody will have a better attitude about the future they’re working toward.
“My thing, I was just trying to give a little light—there are people who do care about people who can’t pay their bills. Not everything has to be a struggle, because there are people who will do good and help you. I think a lot of the lower-income people can get into that attitude of survival rather than living life.
“I don’t believe I ever wondered as a kid whether I’d get to eat at school or not. But I know how hard both of my parents worked to make sure I didn’t have to worry about that. And I feel times have gotten a little harder since then for certain families. I’m just trying to do something good to give back a little bit, because I don’t think any kid going to school should be focused on survival rather than learning. Hopefully it will change that mindset.
“Whether it does a lot of good, I don’t know. I hope it does. You’ve got to start somewhere. If you want to see the change, you’ve got to be the change.
“If I want to do something about this, then I’ve got to come up with something. I threw it out there to see if there was any interest, and it took off.”
“I’m going to try to do one raffle or fundraiser once a month for different organizations,” Anderson said. “I posted on my Facebook video, if anybody has any ideas, let me know.
“I’ve been talking to a few of the other bigger-name vendors of derby apparel, parts, etc., and I think I have a few onboard for some in the future who are going to pitch in and help out a bit. Then, I have a few other connections with non-derby related items, that way it might reach a bigger crowd and get them involved.”
Anderson compares the feeling of helping children with the high of a demolition derby.
“It’s honestly about the same. It’s a hard feeling to explain. Sometimes, for you to be happy with yourself, seeing other people happy is the best remedy. I think if more people were able to feel that, then they’d be more compassionate. Not everybody has felt it, and it’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t.
“I don’t want any praise for this. I’m not doing it because I need recognition. That’s the last of my worries.
“There are some people in this community, my reputation will still be bad, no matter what I do,” Anderson added, laughing. “And I’m 100 percent okay with that. I’m doing what I think is right.
“There are people who need to hear what I’ve got to say. Being able to restore a little faith in the community—I went to school here my whole life, I grew up here, so I know how it was—it’s close to home for me. I knew the kids who couldn’t pay their accounts. I could pick out every one of them. Any of the teachers could do that today. They know. It’s a small community. There are kids that need some help, so let’s do something about it.
“I’ve got a few young kids I know in the school that are very important to me; I don’t ever want to see them worry about something they can’t control.”