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Healthy foods offered to families in need

Glenfair Elementary School officially opened a new, school-based community food pantry Tuesday.

“Kids can't learn if their tummies are aren't full,” Deborah Kafoury, chair of Multnomah County said at the opening. “This is really a great day.”

The tables at the new pantry were laden with onions, apples, cereal, beans, milk and other food, ready for low-income families to take home. Although the pantry is based at the school, it is open to the community. Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: DARRIN SWAIM - Debanhi Hernandez, center, 2, enjoys an apple at the opening of the Glenfair Elementary community food pantry Feb. 3.

Two-year old Debanhi Hernandez, cradled in her mother's arms, was wasting no time, enjoying a huge, crisp apple. Her mother, Arachli, is both a client and volunteer at the food bank. Speaking in Spanish through a translator, Hernandez said the pantry provides her with much-needed vegetables, grains, cereal and other food.

It is no secret that more East County students come from low-income families than in much of the rest of the state. This year in Oregon, 54 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, a common proxy for poverty in schools.

But, in the Reynolds School District 75 percent of students eat free or reduced-price lunch, 61 percent in the Gresham-Barlow School District and 69 percent in Centennial School district. At Glenfair, 93 percent of students are poor.

High-poverty schools typically have lower test scores and rankings than higher income schools and fewer poor children graduate from high school than their wealthier peers. The average state report card ranking for all schools in the state is four, but Glenfair moved from one to two this year.

Glenfair's food pantry has actually been open for a few months and is serving about 50 families per week with the capacity to serve around 100. It is open every Tuesday after school from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

The pantry room is used for other purposes, so the food must be put away after pantry hours. Most of it is set up on foldaway tables and there are few racks, as is common at other food pantries.

“We get really great food here,” said pantry coordinator Anna Markley. “The families are thankful for the opportunity to shop here.”

Reynolds School District superintendent Linda Florence added, “This will help our kids get the food and nutrition they need.”

Last spring the Portland Children's Levy granted $1.3 million to the Oregon Food Bank to fund new food pantries at low-income Portland schools. In the next two years, six more pantries will be added, according to the Oregon Food Bank.

The pantries strive to provide healthier foods to underserved neighborhoods. Putting the pantries in schools brings families to a place that is familiar and convenient, also according to the Food Bank.

Non-profit Metropolitan Family Services runs seven school-based food pantries in East County. It also operates 26 after-school meal sites, 23 summer meal sites and 12 school community gardens. MFS runs a variety of programs in greater Portland and southwest Washington to help families in poverty succeed at home, in school and in the community.

MFS' Glenfair coordinator Celia Flaim said she and the school secretary are getting fewer calls for energy or rent assistance.

“The pantry enables them to use their money for other bills," Flaim said. "It is often a case of 'should I pay the electric bill or buy food.'”

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