by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Bonnie Marston, from GracePointe Church, and Evan King, social worker at Rowe Middle School, wait outside a classroom door as they prepare to hand out afternoon snacks.Evan King does not want to see one student go hungry. Ever. Not one single student.

Fortunately, she is in the position to do something about it at Rowe Middle School in Milwaukie, where she is the school social worker.

“I meet with kids all day, and I’ve always had snacks on my desk. Then the last few years I started to notice a lot of kids coming to school hungry. I’d start handing out string cheese, and then there was a long line of kids coming back for it,” King said.

Reacting to the fact that 80 percent of the Rowe student body is on the free breakfast/reduced lunch program, the school district started a free breakfast program for every student in the school, and “that made a tremendous difference in our kids,” she said, but come late afternoon, the kids were hungry again.

Some students eat lunch at noon, but then stay in class until 4 p.m., and teachers noticed that many students were simply having trouble staying focused.

At the same time, King realized that standing at the door to her office handing out snacks was just not practical, so last year she came up with the idea to start an afternoon snack program, which she calls Ending School-Time Hunger at Rowe Middle School.

Soon a group of 30 to 40 volunteers from GracePointe Church in Milwaukie came on board, and King started to meet her goal of having a snack for every student between 2 and 3 p.m.

“Last year, the Clackamas Rotary Club was involved with us after school, and they asked me what we needed. I said, I need to not have hungry kids at school,” King said, noting that now both the Clackamas and Milwaukie Rotary Clubs are providing financial support for the snack program.

“It made a huge difference to our afternoon classes, the kids were able to stay focused,” she said.

One teacher reported that in his last afternoon class, once a high-protein snack had been consumed at the beginning of the period, the students produced more work than he had ever seen before, King said.

And then there was “James,” a student King described as one of her “frequent fliers,” in that she saw him almost every day, when he skipped his classes.

“He was always in trouble, because he could not stay focused in class. I had snacks in my office, so he was in there two to three times a day,” she said.

Finally, she just gave him a box of granola bars he could keep in his locker. But then he came back asking for more, and when she questioned him, he said he had taken them home for his baby sister. It turned out there were some problems at home, so King called his mother and sorted out the food situation there. Once he started having regular meals, including a late afternoon snack, the young man turned himself around and settled down, King said.

“We provide healthy snacks, and teachers are seeing the difference. There is no excuse for students to be hungry at school. These are our future adults, and we want them to succeed. If we don’t feed them in middle school, they’ll get into a pattern of hunger, they won’t stay focused and they’ll drop out,” she added.

King noted that Clackamas Rotary Club member Bill Stewart sees the snack program as “a diversion program to keep kids in school.”

Stewart, the deputy district attorney for Clackamas County, is also the community prosecutor, active in the Truancy Court Program.

“We want to act in a proactive way to reduce crime. If kids don’t graduate from high school, they could end up in the criminal justice system,” he said.

Stewart added, “We want to support schools to keep kids in school. From my perspective, if kids are not successful in school, they will not be successful in life. It is hard to watch those kids struggle, and something small like this can keep them involved.”

Support needed

The GracePointe volunteers became involved when it was clear that the elementary school Backpack Buddy program they run was just not working for middle schoolers, who think they are too cool to carry backpacks of food home over the weekend, King said.

“Last year, we heard that the middle school students needed food in the middle of the day, so we decided to help with the snack program at Rowe and Aldercreek,” said Bonnie Marston.

She and her volunteers are dedicated to providing healthy snacks with little fat or sugar but lots of protein, she said, noting that her shoppers closely read the labels and regularly buy string cheese and crackers with cheese or peanut butter.

Why are they so dedicated?

“We want the children to know we care; that it matters to us that they are hungry,” Marston said.

Now that a new school year has begun, the math is simple: there are 1,000 students at Rowe, and it costs about $90 a day to buy the snacks.

“That is about $15,000 a year. We will feed kids the amount of food we have, and we’ll be out of food in a week — then what do we do?” she said.

People can help by contacting King at Rowe and she will tell them exactly what she needs; she said it would be best to contact her, as refrigerator space is limited, and she is afraid people might drop off food items that cannot be used.

Cash donations would be best, as she could then give the money to the shoppers from GracePointe who have the technique down to a fine science, she added.

Other sponsors are Bob’s Red Mill and Clif Bars, but King said she really needs to see more community involvement.

“We are grateful to our community partners and to the staff for helping us take care of the needs of each of our youth, but we welcome additional support — as of today, we are about $8,000 short of our goal,” she noted.

King also gathers new and gently used school supplies, and can always use more of those, too.

She added, “Hungry kids can’t learn; kids without school supplies can’t learn.”

Contact Evan King, social worker at Rowe Middle School, by calling 503-353-5741, or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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