School-based food pantry connects with local families
At 1 p.m. sharp on a Wednesday afternoon, families begin arriving at the new Estacada Food Pantry inside Clackamas River Elementary School.
With bags and pull carts in tow, they scan the neatly organized shelves full of food staples, such as peanut butter, chicken broth and canned vegetables.
Two large refrigerators with freezers hold meat, dairy products and produce donated by local gardeners. A clothing rack is jammed with coats and other donated clothing items. Nearby shelves holds school supplies.
Since opening on Sept. 19, the school food pantry is serving around 25 families per week, according to Debra Bufton, Executive Director of the Estacada Area Food Bank, which manages the weekly pantry with the school.
They also partner with the Oregon Food Bank, which provides supplies and funding based on the number of families utilizing the pantry.
The school food pantry is open to all families with children attending any Estacada School District school, from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesdays year round.
There are no income requirements.
The pantry is also testing an approach called "No Limits."
"If an item is on the shelf and your family can use it this week, you should take it," Bufton said.
Additional novel approaches to the school food pantry are food demo-tasting events, delivered by the Oregon State University Extension Service, Family & Community Health program in Clackamas County to expose guests to "unfamiliar" foods available at the pantry.
On this day, the smell of pumpkin and curry wafts in the air as pantry visitors taste and rate a Curried Pumpkin Soup recipe. "Often times there is an abundance of certain foods that guests pass on, because they don't know how to prepare it, or they have run out of ideas on how to prepare it," said Stephanie Stuart, Education Program Assistant. The pantry shelf packed with canned pumpkin is a perfect example. After tasting the soup, many guests added cans to their bags, along with a copy of the FoodHero.org recipe and a curry sample. Food Hero is an OSU Extension program designed to inspire parents with easy to make, low cost recipes that are tasty, healthy and kid-friendly.
Many students are learning about food pantries in the classroom and sharing the information with their parents.
Clackamas River Elementary School second-grader Scarlet Harriot could not wait to show the school food pantry to her mom and siblings after touring the Estacada Area Food Bank with her class. "This is such an incredible resource in the community and I am looking forward to donating food to help families with their holiday meals," said Scarlet's mother, Velvet Harriot.
"It has been great to see the response in the community, both with families being served and community members asking how they can help," said Bufton.
The school food pantry accepts any unexpired food donations (including meats and dairy), gently used clothing, school supplies and toiletries.
What: Estacada School Food Pantry
Who: Open to all families with children in the Estacada School District
Where: Clackamas River Elementary School, 301 N.E. Second Ave.
When: Wednesdays 1-4 p.m. (including breaks and summer)