‘Food gathers’ help feed school’s families

Learn how a long-standing partnership between Urban Gleaners and Cherry Park Elementary School continues to help families in need, in outer East Portland …

After their teaching hours, staff members of this Hazelwood neighborhood school begin unloading food for a “distribution” day.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

In many ways, the Wednesday afternoon of December 9 was like many others at Cherry Park Elementary School – a campus that’s part of the David Douglas School District (DDSD) in the Hazelwood neighborhood.

After school that day, Volunteers were getting ready to distribute food to families facing hunger.

Along the side of the school, people – all staff members of the school – were there to donate time to help set up tables next to the driveway, and then to unload trucks.

“Our food comes from a local organization called Urban Gleaners, a nonprofit organization that ‘rescues’ still-good-but-discarded food from large venues, such as the Moda Center – and also, from restaurants and stores,” explained Cherry Park’s Principal Kate Barker.

She has a long relationship with Urban Gleaners, says Cherry Park Elementary School Principal Kate Barker.

“Our DDSD elementary schools were the first to partner with Urban Gleaners,” Barker told East Portland News.

“13 years ago, when I was the principal at North Powellhurst Elementary, the parents of a kindergarten student told me they volunteered with Urban Gleaners, and that they had a huge amount of bread that would be going to waste, destined for the landfills,” Barker recalled. “She asked if we could distribute the bread to families in need of the school.”

Arranging baked goods to be added to food box pick ups, here’s AmeriCorps member at Cherry Park, and Portland State University student, Andrea Burke.

That inspired them to start what they called their “Backpack Club” for taking home to those who need it the donated bread. Just three weeks later, that turned into full-blown food distribution program at the school.

“And, we’ve been doing it now here at Cherry Park Elementary, once or twice a week, for past 11 years,” Barker continued.

Helping unload one of the two trucks delivering food to the school that day was Urban Gleaners Community Support Specialist Wesley Mozil.

For years, the food distribution was set up in a “pantry” in “farmers market” style, so families could come into the school and choose the foods they wanted.

“Our distribution [system] became very different with the coming of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic; but, we didn’t want that to be a barrier to the food getting into the hands of families that need it,” acknowledged Barker.

As the start of this food distribution session begins, volunteers hustle to get boxes ready for arriving families.

Now, volunteers in the Urban Gleaners warehouse are pre-packing the food into boxes – then they deliver the boxes to the school. So, about a half hour before families line up in their cars to receive food boxes, two trucks from Urban Gleaners pull up – and food, dairy products, and desserts are unloaded by the school’s volunteers.

“We’ve established a very efficient and safe method to get this needed food out to our people who come here,” assured Barker.

Cherry Park Elementary Instructional Assistant Tanya Mishchuk takes another box of food to a family’s car.

“In addition to our volunteers from my school’s staff – who have chosen, after their teaching day, to [stay and] help distribute food to these families – we also have great partners from Metropolitan Family Service – which operates our SUN School Site – who’ve also been instrumental in helping us with the distribution process.”

With that, vehicles were called up, six at a time, and food was provided to people who were grateful to receive these boxes at this outer East Portland School.

Dozens of families receive welcome and needed food during this distribution day, thanks to efforts of many volunteers.

  • To find out more about Urban Gleaners, see their official website: CLICK HERE.
  • And, for Cherry Park Elementary School’s website: CLICK HERE.

© 2020 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™



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