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Estacada area groups provide food, other services for community members during COVID-19 outbreak

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - A volunteer at the Estacada Community Center prepares food to be delivered through Meals on Wheels, which is still operating during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, transportation staff in the Estacada School District drove their normal bus routes. But rather than transporting students, the buses were filled with meals for the younger members of the Estacada community while schools remain closed during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Being able to serve families that might not otherwise have access to food is a top priority," said Maggie Kelly, communications director for the Estacada School District.

Though the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has led to upheaval in Estacada and cities across the world, community members have found ways to support one another during these uncertain times.

At the Estacada Community Center, folks aren't gathering for breakfast and lunch as they normally do. But center staff is still working to distribute food to Meals on Wheels clients, and also encouraging those who typically visit the center for meals to sign up for the program.

"Anyone 60 and older can call us to get meals delivered daily," said Valerie Hansen-Renteria, chair of the center's board of directors.

The community center's Meals on Wheels program typically serves between 40-46 people, and early last week, these numbers had risen to 50-54 people each day.

"We expect as folks get quarantined, that will increase," Hansen-Renteria said.

Usually, between 18-35 people visit the center for weekday lunches and between 20-25 come for Wednesday breakfasts. Along with delivering meals, staff at the community center are calling their visitors each day to check in.

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Estacada School District staff prepare meals to be distributed to students. Though school buildings are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, food for students is still available.

"It's important to try to make that daily contact with folks," Hansen-Renteria said.

Nearby, the Estacada Area Food Bank also continues serving residents. Rather than going inside the building as they normally do, food bank customers wait outside as volunteers check them in and take their orders, delivering their items to them outside.

Along with delivering meals to students, Estacada School District leaders also hosts sites at Wade Creek Park and the parking lot near the Estacada Fire Station where students can pick up food. With the exception of spring break from March 23-27, these services will continue through the end of the statewide school closure, which is expected to continue through the end of April.

Approximately half of the Estacada School District's students receive free and reduced lunches. During the closure, food is available for all students 18 and younger.

Kelly noted that offering delivery via buses and pickup sites is valuable because the Estacada School District is geographically vast, spanning 750 square miles, and not everyone has access to transportation.

"It's a unique way to address our community's needs," she said, adding that the number of lunches distributed is "growing every day."

When the program launched on Monday, March 16, 350 meals were distributed. The following day, this number grew to 513.

Additionally, on Friday, March 13, the day after statewide school closures were announced, the Estacada Backpack Buddies program dropped off three weeks worth of food for participating students. Organized by local churches, the program provides weekend meals for students who need them.

"There's been an outpouring of community support," Kelly said. "When it looked like we were heading toward a closure, everyone asked, 'how can we keep supporting kids?'"

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - A school district staff member talks to students while distributing food.

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - The Estacada Community Centers Meals on Wheels program will continue connecting senior citizens with food during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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