Family Support Center gears up for high demand
For about two hours every Monday morning, a small crew of North Clackamas School District volunteers rushes to unload two pallets of food from the Oregon Food Bank and stock the shelves at the Family Support Center's Food Pantry so families can begin shopping at 10 a.m.
By the time they're done, the medium-size room at the Wichita Center for Family and Community is full of of both fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, frozen meats, bread and an assortment of dry goods for families to choose from.
What brings volunteers like Peggy Salo and Janet McCullough back every week, though, is how the shelves look when they get there on Monday mornings — pretty much bare. The largely empty shelves tell them the need in the community is great and the Food Pantry is providing a valued service.
"You feel like you're really doing something and giving back," Salo said. "That's why you do it."
The Family Support Center encompasses the Food Pantry and the Clothes Closet, but also provides school supplies and hygiene products to NCSD families. According to volunteer coordinator Michele Warzoha, there has been an uptick in the number of families accessing those forms of support since last spring.
Parent Karen Leata, for example, found herself in need unexpectedly after her husband suffered a massive stroke this year. She said she appreciates how easy the Family Support Center has made getting the items her family needs since returning from the hospital.
"I've lived in a lot of cities, but Wichita really made a big impact," Leata said. "I didn't think about just how much support we give to families here with clothing, school supplies and food until we actually came here. It's a big help with our family."
With the holidays coming up, the center is gearing up to meet the rising demand during the winter. There are numerous ways to help the Family Support Center meet the challenges of coordinating with community-based food drives and meal programs to connect families with additional support during the holiday season.
"We have people coming in almost in tears because they don't have the funds to do a Thanksgiving meal," Warzoha said.
This year, for instance, the center is calling for people to donate grocery store gift cards (or cash). That way, families can shop for themselves and celebrate according to their own customs, traditions and dietary needs.
Direct donations of items and supplies are always welcome, as well. Volunteer Bob Johnson, for example, has been running a small, ongoing food drive for years with friends, family and neighbors to help supplement the Food Pantry.
"I've got two people that if I say we need refried beans, they will bring in cases of refried beans," Johnson said. "A lot of people have gotten their neighbors involved."
The Clothes Closet recently held its annual winter coat giveaway event, but still needs more coats and winter gear to keep up with demand now that those items are back out on the racks for the season.
"Just to see the smiles on kids' faces when you come up with a down-type jacket that's really warm and fits them, it feels great," volunteer Jeff Hanna said. "They don't even want to take it off. They want to wear it home and probably even sleep in it. It's pretty cool to connect them with something that's a critical need."
Particularly pressing needs for the Clothes Closet are boys clothing for both kids and teens (youth appropriate), new underwear in kids and youth sizes, and new or gently used shoes.
Family Support Center
What: Wichita's Food Pantry serves families who live within the boundary of the North Clackamas School District, or who have students who attend NCSD. The Clothes Closet is open to NCSD students only, or students enrolled in a pre-K program that partners with NCSD. Hygiene items are provided to families with an enrolled NCSD student.
Where: 6031 S.E. King Road, Milwaukie
Food pantry: Open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, visits are limited to once a month per person
Clothes closet: Open from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, visits are limited to four times each school year per person
Online: For a full list of needs, including hygiene items, visit nclack.k12.or.us/wichita/page/donations.
Donate: Drop off items at the Wichita Center from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, but furniture, bedding or household goods are not being accepted at this time.
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