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Declining enrollment has forced school district into making budget cuts, including resource for hungry since 2014

Open since 2014, the Gladstone Food Pantry will close June 16 due to funding cuts in the Gladstone School District.

PHOTO COURTESY: LESLIE ROBINETTE - A sixth-grade student at Kraxberger Middle School, Colton Wilson (right) volunteers at the Gladstone Food Pantry to help an unnamed customer choose foods. Gladstone Food Pantry will end operations after serving hundreds of local families since fall 2014; June 16 will be the last day customers can get free food at the site.

Run by a team of 55 volunteers, the pantry behind Gladstone High School has given families the opportunity to choose free produce, meat, canned goods, milk and more. During the first quarter of 2018 the pantry provided food to 708 people: 39 percent of them children and 16 percent seniors.

Partners in the project included food donations from the Oregon Food Bank, Bob's Red Mill and Dave's Killer Bread. Grant funding came from Clackamas County and the Gladstone Education Foundation.

"Gladstone Schools started the pantry because we know reliable access to food stabilizes struggling families and helps our students learn better," said program leader Leslie Robinette, who is also a district spokesperson. "However, as schools again face funding cuts, the sad reality is that we can no longer afford this program."

Gladstone's declining enrollment (2,085 last year to 2,053 this year) has resulted in several school funding cuts this year. Gladstone's rapidly rising housing costs have pushed many families with children farther out to more affordable rural areas like Estacada. On May 29, district officials made the decision to close the pantry.

"As a school district, we have been forced to prioritize our primary mission of education over social services, despite the very real need for these programs," Robinette said. "Our hope is that another agency can step up to provide the funds needed to reopen the pantry next fall or winter."

Until then, Gladstone schools will refer families to food resources in nearby communities. Gladstone will offer its free summer lunch program as usual at two sites, which district officials hope will be some help to the families who have been served by the food pantry.

Gladstone schools will provide federally funded free lunches to all youths age 1 to 18 on Monday to Friday, June 18 to Aug. 17 (except for a closure July 4). Adult lunches are $3. Two sites are available, 11 a.m. to noon at the Gladstone Center for Children & Families, 18905 Portland Ave; and from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at Kraxberger Middle School, 17777 Webster Road.

In addition, the Oregon Food Bank is opening a new Free Food Market in June, located at the Clackamas DHS office, 16440 S.E. 82nd Ave. They will provide free produce and pantry staples the second Thursday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Gladstone also plans to continue the Backpack Buddies nutrition program, which this year increased service from 60 to 94 families per week. That church and Rotary-supported program operates only during the school year, with help from the vocational skills class at Gladstone High School.

Part of the loss of the Food Pantry will be a loss to volunteers having the opportunity to connect with other community members. Colton Wilson, a sixth-grade student at Kraxberger Middle School, and his grandmother Cheri Weaver have been among the many longtime volunteers at the Food Pantry.

"He is one of several skilled kids and teens who are part of our volunteer team," Robinette said. "The mingling of generations from kids to seniors has been part of the magic of our pantry community."

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