Food4Kids volunteers Sarah Stephens and Linda Stratford ready loaves of bread for the weekend. PHOTO PROVIDED
Since 2013, not-for-profit Creswell Food4Kids volunteers have been quietly slipping into Creswell School District (CSD) classrooms on Friday afternoons, filling backpacks with food to last the weekend. At the program’s peak, they would provide food for 74 children at once. Today, Creswell Food4Kids provides food for 67 children in the District weekly. However, this service may soon come to a halt as their volunteer numbers continue to decline, unless community members are willing to step up to the plate and pitch in.
The striking numbers of free and reduced lunches served at CSD in 2013 inspired Creswell Food4Kids founders Celeste Keepers, Darcy Landers and Kim Edwards to initiate the nonprofit, said current Food4Kids Chair Bonnie Wenzl, who noted that back then, about 80 percent of Creslane students were receiving free and reduced lunches.
Forward to the present; in March 2018 the District prepared 10,445 free/reduced meals for the month – 4,113 breakfasts and 6,332 lunches, according to CSD Business Manager Anna Houpt. Those numbers are still high, especially compared to the 4,069 paid meals reportedly prepared for the month – 1,169 breakfasts and 2,900 lunches.
To date for 2017-18, a total of 70,641 free/reduced lunches were prepared, whereas paid lunches totaled 29,755, according to Houpt’s summary.
While there are no financial qualifications or restrictions to participate in the Creswell Food4Kids program, the number of reduced and free lunches in the District directly speaks to the nonprofit’s mission, indicating that many Creswell families have a need for programs such as this.
Creswell Food4Kids began as a bookbag system, where students would receive a bookbag containing food, and they were to return the bag the next week in order to receive another food contribution. That system grew complicated as the need grew, and was later nixed to make the transfer more efficient.
Today, the program’s main goal is to keep confidential the students who receive these lunches, Wenzl said. How it works is, volunteers go into the classrooms on Fridays, go to the students’ cubbies and slip the bag of food into their backpacks discreetly. If students don’t have backpacks, Food4Kids volunteers will donate some to students.
The food supplied is intended to be taken home for the weekend, or over school breaks. Each child receives two breakfast items, two snacks, two entrees, two fruits, two vegetables and a loaf of bread. Food4Kids also accommodates for vegan and vegetarians.
Food4Kids operates entirely from donations and uses all its proceeds to purchase food, Wenzl said. The program used to receive help from FOOD for Lane County, but now relies strictly on donations.
In 2017, Creswell First! granted $2,500 to Creswell Food4Kids. With that grant, Food4Kids is able to supply food for an entire weekend to over 70 children in the District each week while school is in session. The Creswell Presbyterian Church’s Presbyterian Women’s Association (PWA) also donated $1,500 last year, Reverend Seth Wheeler said.
Right now, the organization has about 10 volunteers, but in their heyday, Creswell Food4Kids operated with up to 25 volunteers.
Volunteers would be asked to help out on Wednesday or Thursday evenings at Creslane Elementary to help bag food for Friday’s haul. Volunteers would also be needed on Fridays to help deliver the food to students at their schools.
This is Wenzl’s third year in the program, and her second year serving as chair. She will be stepping down from that position in June, and is hoping a volunteer will be willing to take on her role, or help volunteer in other ways. ”If no one will run it, we won’t have a program,” Wenzl said, ”and I really don’t want that to happen.”
To get involved, or if you have any questions, email Wenzl at [email protected] or call her at 541-515-5560. You can also call Creslane and ask to speak with Crystal Perdue, who also assists in coordinating the program.