The pantry will help alleviate hunger among students

by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - With 80 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches, Reynolds MIddle School is considered the sixth highest-need school in Multnomah County. The county just approved funds to start a school food bank at Reynolds Middle.

Eighty percent of Reynolds Middle School’s 950 students qualify for free or reduced price lunches and between 125-150 lack permanent housing.

That ranks Reynolds Middle School as the sixth highest-need school in Multnomah County.

Come January, Reynolds students-in-need and their families will be able to access a food pantry where they can receive up to 50 pounds of food per family each month.

Thursday, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted to approve $61,000 in contingency funds to start food pantries at Reynolds Middle School and Madison High School this January. Eight school food pantries already exist in the county, and Commissioners Deborah Kafoury and Diane McKeel helped push for the pantries in their districts.

“There’s such a need to expand our food pantries,” said McKeel, who represents District 4, including Reynolds. “We know what an impact they make and we don’t want any child or family to be hungry.”

The pantries will operate through SUN Service System, in partnership with Oregon Food Bank, which stocks them. Weekly, the pantries serve between 25-45 families at each site.

Since launching in April 2011, the eight pantries have provided more than 570,000 meals worth of food at an estimated value of more than $1.5 million if purchased at Multnomah County grocery stores. More than 8,000 families have accessed the pantries since they opened.

Along with providing families in need with food each month, the funding will also go toward a full-time program specialist for the pantries. Rick Freed, part-time pantry coordinator, will become a full-time employee and help the pantry program expand.

The two new pantries are expected to serve 37,500 meals and leverage $110,000 worth of food the rest of the fiscal year.

Molly Frye, a social worker and liaison for the homeless population through the district said setting up pantries in schools is a more “organic way” for people to get their needs met.

“It’s a community meeting place where kids are every day,” Frye said. “They trust their teachers and staff. It’s a place where they don’t have to be embarrassed to say they’re in need.”

The pantries are expected to cost $66,000 during the next fiscal year and commissioners are trying to create an ongoing funding stream.

“It’s been a need for a long time and we’re glad someone is noticing,” Frye said. “When kids get the nutrients they wouldn’t usually, it helps them to focus in school. I hope we’re able to expand to all high-poverty schools in East County.”

“It’s important we at the county step up and address the issue to impact our vulnerable population,” McKeel said. “Child hunger is just unacceptable and heartbreaking.”

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