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Church-Based Program Keeps Hungry Kids Fed Over Holiday Break

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Tiffany Eckert
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More than half of students in the Eugene 4-J school district qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. During long breaks from school, these children are at risk of going without meals. As KLCC's Tiffany Eckert reports, local churches are making it their mission to end food insecurity one neighborhood at a time. 

(Car sounds)

On a recent rainy evening, volunteers arrive en masse to the Bertha Holt Elementary parking lot in Eugene's Harlow neighborhood. They are here to help pack food bags for students during the 17-day holiday break. It's called the Feed Hope Program and chances are they heard about it from Pastor Aaron Box.

Box leads the congregation of North Park Community Church, just across the street from the school. He welcomes the 85 volunteers.

Box: "This is really significant and special that a group of people that have all sorts of reasons to consider themselves different come together for the purpose of serving. (Applause.)"

Then it's time to get to work.

Box: "So what we're gonna do is gonna happen really quick."

There are two long rows of tables set up in the school gym. Half of the volunteers take the breakfast food table line the rest are responsible for packing lunch. The piles and piles of food items were donated by the local grange, the Harlow Neighbor Association, parents…There are cereal bars, juice boxes, peanut butter crackers, and more.

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Credit Tiffany Eckert
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Tables are covered with donated food items as volunteers prepare to load bags at Holt Elementary.

Box says he took pointers from FOOD for Lane County to create an appropriate food list.

Box: "What you see is things that are really easy to prepare or get into. We know that a lot of these kids, just because they're home from break, their parents may still be working. So we may have 1st and 2nd graders that have to figure out how to get into this food and cook during the day so even the Chef Boyardee a number of those cans have pop tops."

(Sound of bags opening and counting food items)

As men, women and children pack paper bags full of food items, Joyce Johnson receives them at the end of the tables. She is the principal at Bertha Holt Elementary and has seen first-hand the impact the Feed Hope program makes.

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Credit Tiffany Eckert
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Joyce Johnson is principal of Bertha Holt Elementary in the Harlow area of Eugene. She prepares holiday break food bags for 75 of her students.

Johnson: "It works—it really really works. We just feel very, very fortunate. The churches as well as the neighborhood group come out in full force for us whenever we ask."

Pastor Box recalls the genesis of Feed Hope at his church five years ago-

Box: "that began with somebody anonymously showing up on a Sunday morning and dropping off some gold coins with a note that said, 'feed the hungry.' And our church had to figure out how to steward that gift from a stranger. That turned into what you see now."

Box says the schools do an excellent job of protecting the privacy and dignity of each student who receives supplemental food packs. He describes how the *weekend Feed Hope program goes down.

Box: "We have volunteers that come in on Fridays, and the teachers all have numbered cubbies in their classroom. And so when kids are away at lunch, we have volunteers that come in and all they have to do is find the number on the cubby and slide food bags into the backpacks and [they] slide back out. Nobody ever knows they were there."

As promised, the work here went quickly. In just *17 minutes there were 75 lunch and 75 breakfast bags stuffed full.

Box says the large volunteer turnout doesn't surprise him.

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Credit Tiffany Eckert
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April Cottle brought along a Boy Scout troop to earn service hours.

Box: "People are looking for a way to make a difference. They're looking for a way to be a part of something bigger than just themselves. Often times the questions coming out of a night like this is 'What more can I do?'"

Quick as a wink, Pastor Box tells tonight's volunteers about another opportunity to reduce hunger during Spring Break next March.  

Box says any church in any neighborhood can do this and he is happy to help.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.
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