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Food bank starts produce delivery to Head Start

Produce deliveries allow more access for those in need

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Columbia Pacific Food Bank employee Meredith Reading stacks boxes of canned goods in the warehouse. Boxes of fruits and vegetables were packed in the warehouse cooler for storage and will be delivered to Head Start locations next week.The Columbia Pacific Food Bank will start making fresh produce deliveries to Head Start preschool centers next week.

The three Head Start locations in St. Helens, Clastkanie and Vernonia will start receiving deliveries of fresh produce twice per month starting the week of Monday, Oct. 5. The fruits and vegetables from the Columbia Pacific Food Bank will then be picked up by the parents of children in the programs at the end of the day.

Columbia Pacific Food Bank Executive Director Casey Wheeler and Northwest Oregon Head Start Director Dawn Crawford had been working to organize a partnership between the two groups for a few months over the summer, experimenting with produce drops at summer meal programs.

Large boxes of produce are sorted and packaged at the food bank warehouse and then delivered to the preschool buildings. From there, the site managers at each preschool will organize a system for parents to grab a bag of produce to take home with them when they pick up their children. Wheeler said the food bank is organizing a similar donation plan with the Department of Human Services Self-Sufficiency Office in St. Helens.

Head Start is a full-service preschool program for kids from ages 3 to 5 whose family income falls at or below a federally established threshold. Wheeler said the food bank and Head Start partnership made sense because there are often families that receive

services from both organizations.

“We can get lots of produce through the Oregon Food Bank,” Wheeler said. “I’m just looking for ways that we can make it easier for those people in need to have easier access.”

The food bank receives regular donations from gardeners in the community, Wheeler said. Master Gardeners often grow produce at home and then donate it to the food bank for distribution, he said. Donations come in seasonally, with squash being popular this time of year.

Wheeler said providing produce directly to Head Start locations is an additional way for people to have access to healthy and fresh food. Some people work during the hours when food pantries are open, inhibiting access.

“That’s a part of our goal is to not only distribute food, but distribute healthy food,” Wheeler said.

The Columbia Pacific Food Bank has a 4,500-square-foot warehouse in St. Helens where it stores donations and operates the H.E.L.P. emergency food pantry. Employees and volunteers at the food bank operate food pantries across the county, including in St. Helens, Clastkanie, Rainier and Vernonia. Other agencies work with the food bank to provide resources in Scappoose and Mist-Birkenfeld, as well.

Crawford said a similar produce food drop program exists in Tillamook County, where several Head Start centers were already designated as food pantry locations. She said the new program will help tie the two needed community resources together in a beneficial way.

“We’re always encouraging healthy eating habits and having the produce will be an additional benefit,” Crawford said.

Head Start currently serves 132 children in Columbia County, with 76 of those served at the St. Helens Head Start Center, 38 in Clatskanie, and 18 in Vernonia.