Community Heroes: Tigard food program feeds hundreds
When Margie Yemoto-Greene and others gathered following the announcement that Tigard-Tualatin School District schools would shut down in the middle of March 2020 to help quell the spread of COVID-19, the question on everyone's minds was how to provide food for those students who qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.
Very quickly, Packed with Pride — a weekly food box program — was created, but the next step was determining who would help out.
"Within one, I'd say probably 72-hour period — maybe 48-hour period — we put out the call through a Google Forum to say, 'Hey, if you're interested, we're trying to get this program up and going.' Six hundred people signed up," she recalled.
Packed with Pride was a joint effort of the Foundation for Tigard-Tualatin Schools (where Yemoto-Greene serves as executive director), the Tigard-Tualatin School Education Association, the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union and Tigard-Tualatin School Board members Maureen Wolf and Ben Bowman.
Yemoto-Greene said she was astounded at how fast the response to the program's creation was.
"We've never experienced anything like it," she said.
The first two weeks the program was up and running, Packed with Pride handed out 150 food boxes to those driving up to its makeshift warehouse in the old Tigard High School cafeteria.
"We just had folks come through particular stations and our volunteers were just loading their cars," said Yemoto-Greene, adding that Packed with Pride also delivered boxes to those who couldn't make it to the cafeteria. The program grew quickly.
"Fridays were the no-contact pickup at Tigard High and Saturdays were about 70 volunteer drivers coming through getting loaded up and getting delivery routes and delivering over 500 boxes," she said, detailing the program's growth by the spring of 2020. They were also helping the community at large and eventually became an Oregon Food Bank agency. At its height, Pack with Pride was filling 850 boxes every week.
A food box generally contains such non-perishable items such as rice, pasta, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, bread, peanut butter and more. Perishable items often include fresh produce, milk, yogurt and a variety of meats.
"And those boxes were designed to be able to supplement, if not just entirely feed, five individuals," said Yemoto-Greene. At one point, the Oregon Food Bank informed the nonprofit organization that "you're our biggest food bank outside of Portland."
As the program slowed a bit this summer when classes were out, Packed with Pride gave its volunteers drivers a badly needed break. Now, except for a few special cases, those who need food boxes pick them up at Tigard High.
Yemoto-Greene said Packed with Pride also stepped up to help the district's 10 elementary schools by providing food and snacks for a weekly backpack program during the pandemic. The program provides backpacks filled with nonperishable items for students to eat over the weekend.
"We saw this as a great opportunity to make that successful backpack program even stronger," she said.
Now that school has started again, Yemoto-Greene said she expects requests for food boxes to rise.
"I don't really think we'll see as much as we had during the height of COVID-19, but you never know," she said.
Yemoto-Greene believes that the program should have a permanent place in the school district and her understanding is that the district is interested in making that happen.
Bowman, the Tigard-Tualatin School Board member who volunteers with Packed with Pride, praised Yemoto-Greene for championing the program from the beginning.
"Hundreds of people volunteered and donated — in an incredibly divisive time, we all came together — and it would not have been possible, not even close, without Margie," Bowman said. "She is often quick to give credit to others, but the reality is that she is singularly responsible for the growth of this incredible program."
Editor's note: This feature originally appeared in Pamplin Media Group's 2021 Community Heroes special publication.
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