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North Marion Middle School was among several distribution locales where Love Santa food boxes were delivered to area families

COURTESY PHOTO: GINA AUDRITSH - Volunteers prepare to give families food boxes at North Marion Middle School on Saturday, Dec. 12.On Saturday, Dec. 12, Woodburn-area real-estate agent Gina Audritsh marveled at the spaciousness of one key feature at a rural property west of Hubbard — North Marion Middle School.

"Having the long sweep driveway and the double lane capability to load cars was perfect," Audritsch said. "We had 50 boxes on one side and 50 on the other with separation of our volunteers who were allowed to work together safely for social distancing."

Audritsh and the team of volunteers at NMMS comprised one of four contact points culminating a much broader community effort: Love Santa, Inc., which provided 450 area families in need with food boxes that day.

Love Santa President Robert Prinslow said the efforts of many ensured that this unusual pandemic-restricting year would not render the nonprofit inoperable.

"Distribution this year was possible because of the overwhelming support from so many areas of the community," Prinslow said. "While searching for options on food boxes, the owner of Newberg Grocery Outlet offered to donate their staff's time to build the 450 food boxes. COURTESY PHOTO: GINA AUDRITSH - Food boxes garthered by Love Santa and filled by volunteers await distribution at North Marion Middle School on Saturday, Dec. 12.

"Several donors stepped up to help pay for the food items in the food boxes," he continued. "Les Schwab Tires donated a loaf of bread for each food box. A Woodburn Kiwanis Club donated a jar of peanut butter for each food box. Franz Bread donated a second loaf of bread for each food box. Iverson Farms donated 5-pound bags of potatoes for the food boxes. United Salad donated the boxes to make the food boxes."

Consequently, each family received 85 pounds of food, enough that it required two boxes per delivery.

Meanwhile, multiple entities and organizations helped raise funds for the effort, including area fire districts, Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce, and Dutch Bros. Coffee of Woodburn and Silverton.

Love Santa also received a $12,000 COVID-19 relief grant from the city of Woodburn, while US Foods provided two drivers and two trucks to deliver the food from Newberg to the four distribution sites.

"The monetary support was enough to purchase a $50 gift card for each family," Prinslow said. "The Walmart gift cards were provided in hopes the families would purchase gifts for their children or additional needed food."

North Marion and Woodburn school districts helped the nonprofit identify families in need. In addition to NMMS, distribution sites were established at Hubbard Chevrolet service center, Hoodview Church of God and Centennial Park in Woodburn.

In all, about 70 volunteers took part in the distribution, a comparatively elaborate process due to pandemic safety precautions.

"Occupants of vehicles were not allowed out of their vehicles, and drivers and any occupants were required to wear masks and to electronically pop their trunk or open door for delivery," Audritsh described the middle school scenario. "If we as volunteers needed to open a car we used sanitized wipes to do so. All volunteers were required to change gloves in between touching a vehicle."

North Marion Key Club students provided the bulk of the volunteers at that site.

"Our guests were mailed post cards in advance with specific time frames of when to arrive so to avoid any long lines that could compromise social distancing," Audritsh noted. "Safety was of utmost concern for us as we continued to serve our community."

It was an overall heartwarming experience in which to be involved.

"I could not have been more proud of the 5 young ladies from North Marion High School who helped with our event," Audritsh said. "They were a pleasure to (work with) and were helpful to me when I needed interpretation over the phone from clients who had questions on where and when to come pick up their boxes.

"The sun broke through the clouds about 10 a.m. and warmed our hearts even a little more."

Prinslow said that NMMS scene was a snapshot of an overall heartwarming effort.

"Distribution ... was a success because of all the support received from our area and beyond," he said. "This year we forged some new partnerships and updated other partnerships. We reaffirmed our commitment to serving local families. We hope to return to a more family-friendly distribution process next year."

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