Didi Brooks (left), 48, and step-daughter Kaytie Minks, 28, indicate their appreciation.

Last Friday might have started out with a gloomy, overcast morning, but volunteers from the Creswell Food Pantry and FOOD for Lane County served free lunch to the Creswell community outside of Creslane Elementary School. But the enthusiasm was palpable.

This is the first year that the Creswell Food Pantry has partnered with FOOD for Lane County. Thanks to that partnership, each family on Friday received a 24-pound box of produce from Farm to Family in addition to lunch bag items.

The program started at 11 a.m., and 75 meals had been distributed within the first 30 minutes. It fed more 45 families.

Susan Kenady-Blachnik, manager of the Creswell Food Pantry, said the participation grows every week. Her team distributed 70 packs the first week and 110 the second week.

 This past Friday she said her team prepared lunches for 130 kids based on numbers from the week prior, and they managed to stretch the food supply to feed 155 kids.

“We didn’t know how it was going to go,” Kenady-Blachnik said. “They didn’t get everything, but they all got something really good.”

Families drove to the curb outside the school, gave the number of families they were picking up food for and how many children were involved in each household.

Some children, like Chrissy Richey, 11, rode on their bicycles. Richey said she is there to pick up five lunches for her sisters and cousin, and she said she always particpates.

The United Way donated $5,000 to feeding the students. Kenady-Blachnik said they have been able to stretch the budget by shopping at the Grocery Outlet in Cottage Grove. She credited the owner of the store, Ed Sowa, for giving them a 10% discount on the Creswell Food Pantry purchases. 

Sowa, 45, of Cottage Grove, said that his relationship with the Creswell Food Pantry started early last year.

“That’s what it’s all about, it’s supporting the community and those who are doing good things for their community,” Sowa said. “They’ve been a great partner to help feed the folks in our community.”

Next week, Kenady-Blachnik confirmed there will be more produce boxes with fresh loaves of bread and lunch bags. She hopes the program can continue through August.

Kurk Blachnik hands over meals to a family.