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Community gives children in poverty food security with bagging event

January 21, 2019

Three-year-olds to high school seniors to senior citizens woke up early Saturday morning itching to bag more than 800 food bags with juice boxes, nuts and cheese and crackers.

More than once, organizers had to remind them to stop working for instructions and prayer before beginning.

For the next 30 minutes or so, an estimated 70 volunteers packed snacks into white plastic bags, which were then loaded into cardboard boxes.

Members of the First Presbyterian Church in Roseburg have been packing bags with healthy snacks for about five years for children in the Roseburg Public School district who are either homeless or in poverty and food security is an issue.

The bags were packed in boxes and taken to the district office for district McKinney-Vento Liaison Juliana Marez to distribute to all of the schools to then hand out to children who might not otherwise eat well over the weekend.

Marez’s position with the McKinney-Vento program is to aid and identify children who may be homeless or in poverty to make sure financial and home issues do not inhibit their education.

“Before this started, I had kids who had absences, often on Fridays,” Marez said. “If they know they are going to get that bag, they are more likely to come to school on Fridays. It also allows them to connect with a caring person on campus at least once a week specifically to address their struggle.”

According to the Oregon Department of Education, 3.43 percent of Roseburg students are homeless. There are approximately 634 homeless students in Douglas County.

“It sure is beautiful to see how the community cares about these kids,” Marez said. “It started as some homeless people who would go get their food boxes and didn’t want to see the school kids go hungry. They would show up at my office and say ‘Here’s an unopened box, I can do without.’”

Randal Olsen, principal at Rose Alternative High School, attended the event with his wife, Megan, and two sons, Jaxon, 7, and Kadon, 4.

“It’s become such a huge part of our culture, for a lot of kids, it’s not a weird thing to grab a bag,” Randal Olsen said. “I said, ‘how does this bag thing happen?’ This is actually the first time we’ve had a chance to do something with the community since the spring. We love doing it, but we wish there were more opportunities.”

Jaxon disappeared among the adults and high school students as he carried a white plastic grocery bag down a row of tables. He moved quickly from each station, reaching his hands over large cardboard boxes to grab items for the bag. He held his place in the rotating line down the table as he rushed to drop off each full bag and start a new one.

It’s not the first time the Olsen sons helped with this project.

“I like helping with community service,” Jaxon Olsen, 7, said. “I was faster this time.”

Vicky Brown, pastor at First Presbyterian Church, began providing food security bags for the school district about five years ago.

“It’s a fun project and we know it’s really appreciated,” Brown said.

First Presbyterian Church usually hosts the event in its church basement, but damage from recent flooding forced Brown and others to relocate the event to the Faith Lutheran Church in West Roseburg on Saturday morning.

“It’s a great project and we encourage other churches and organizations to do it,” Brown said.

Brown said they try to pack bags three times a year and already have a donation from Fred Meyer for the next packing event. This time, all of the donations came from the church congregations. All the leftover foods that didn’t make it into bags will be donated to the FISH Food Pantry.

“This is what I love,” Marez said. “To me this is such a feel good thing. The benefit is directly to the children experiencing poverty but also to the people who want to do good but don’t know where to plug in their energy.”

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