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Community rallies with food pantry, feeds three times the number of clients amid school closures

COURTESY PHOTO: AMI JOSHI - Hunger Fighters received enough donated food to assist three times as many clients than they would on a typical weekend. This past weekend, Hunger Fighters Oregon distributed 3,600 pounds of food and served more than three times the number of clients compared to typical weekends.

The influx of donations and rise in clients was the result of Gov. Kate Brown's mandated school closures across the state through April 28 to contain the spread of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Though a necessary public health precaution, the mandate leaves students who qualify for free and reduced price meals without the food they regularly rely on.

Seven percent of Lake Oswego School District students received free and reduced price meals last school year.

In an effort to mitigate food-insecurity among LOSD students, the district mailed Safeway gift cards to every family whose child receives free and reduced lunch in the district. LOSD also ushered those eager to help towards Hunger Fighters — where they, in turn, donated time, money and resources.

Hunger Fighters, which has served Lake Oswego residents since 2017, was met this weekend with generous donations and volunteers.

Founder Michael Murray said that within 48 hours of the school closure announcement, 220 community members donated money online, and 350 families and residents dropped off much needed food items. He also said 40 volunteers — 25 of which were new volunteers — answered the call to help sort donations and assist clients, contributing 200 volunteer hours.

Community groups like the Lake Oswego Rotary Club and the Lake Oswego Chinese Council held food drives and fundraisers as well.

Ami Joshi, president of Hunger Fighters, said the nonprofit couldn't assist so many residents without the help from the community.

"It's just been incredible...We had such an outpouring of folks," she said. COURTESY PHOTO: AMI JOSHI - Hunger Fighters gives clients enough food to feed their families for a week, and they're encouraged to come back every week they need to.

This past weekend, the pantry was open Saturday through Monday, and at different times of the day to be flexible with people's varying schedules.

Joshi said on Saturday they started modifying their policy around health and safety for clients and volunteers. They went from being a self-shop pantry to trying out a method where volunteers shop for the client while the client stays in their car. Before someone shopped for them, the client filled out a form with household information and dietary restrictions.

Volunteers wore gloves and wiped down pens and clipboards, but Joshi said that method still required a lot of contact.

"It was difficult — within 24 hours — to transition to a stay-in-your-vehicle system," she said.

Now they're moving to a system where the volunteer has a quick conversation with the client about household size and dietary restrictions, retrieves a pre-packaged box that fits that need, and drops the donation in the trunk of the client's car — all while the client stays in their car to minimize contact. All donations supply the family with a week's worth of food.

Murray asks that those who want to donate but have not yet purchased food provide a monetary donation instead. Joshi mentioned they've already had to give excess produce to surrounding area food pantries with more refrigerator space.

Hunger Fighters operates out of a house adjacent to the Lake Oswego High School campus at 2301 Hazel Rd., Lake Oswego, OR 97035. The pantry will be open to residents Saturday, March 21, for extended hours between 1-4 p.m., and on Wednesday, March 25, from 4-6 p.m.

"We are always here and we would strongly encourage any community member — whether they are in need of assistance or whether they want to help — to just reach out," Joshi said. "We want to stay engaged with the community."

She encouraged folks to check the website for the most up-to-date hours and information.

www.hungerfightersoregon.org


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