The Tigard-Tualatin School District was the first in Oregon to announce its closure in mid-March. While some students try to continue their daily lives from the comfort of their own home, others aren’t as lucky to live with those opportunities. When the school year turned into an online environment, many students were left without a safe space or source of nutrition.
Unemployment rates are as high as they’ve been since the Great Depression and the families who were barely scraping by before COVID-19 are in search of any way to get their next meal.
Groups and organizations such as the Northwest Christian Church, Tualatin School House Food Pantry and other food pantries have been a huge help for the spontaneous issue, but haven’t been able to expand their reach or capacity to meet the ever-growing demand. Although, breakfasts and lunches can still be received by students Monday through Friday at several TTSD elementary schools and complexes which are still operating to this day.
“At the start of all the closures, the grocery stores were literally running out of food so there was this fear that you could feel in the community. We really had to scramble to get something together,” Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Ben Bowman said.
Packed with Pride is a program that seeks to solve the issue of food insecurity during the pandemic time. As a nonprofit and a partnership between the Tigard-Tualatin School District, the Foundation for Tigard-Tualatin Schools, the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association and the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union, this group of volunteers from the community pack and deliver food boxes to the TTSD families in need. This totals approximately 850 families for the once-a-week delivery and pick-up.
“[At the March 12 emergency meeting], we all agreed that we had to close schools. But the issue that got brought up by multiple members was that we needed to create a way to get food to students who rely on schools to access nutrition,” Bowman said.
From the initial call to halt the 2019-2020 school year, Tigard-Tualatin School Board Chair Maureen Wolf, Tigard-Tualatin Education Association President Scott Herron, Executive Director of the School Foundation Margie Greene and Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Ben Bowman decided to call a second meeting to set up some sort of solution whether it be temporary or permanent for the impending problem.
Week one of Packed with Pride, while only sending out 135 boxes, encountered huge financial walls and program sustainability questions. Bowman said, “the founders of the program and I sat down and thought ‘That was exhausting and we’ll never be able to sustain this capacity.’ There were major concerns about the financial stability of the program because it costs a lot of money to run.”
Community members, families and PSOs were strictly funding the program at that time along with larger food donations from nearby businesses. Although extremely helpful, food donations wouldn’t last with the program’s goal of delivering to every district family in need.
“We started by just going to the Grocery Outlet in King City, putting boxes and boxes of their food into carts. That was seriously the way that we could purchase food,” Bowman exclaimed. Within a couple of weeks, the demand had skyrocketed with representatives from a majority of schools seeking answers for hundreds of families.
Fortunately, with relationships built with suppliers and grocery stores, the program can more easily order and buy food without paying the added customer costs. Local churches have also been able to collect and donate the higher-priced food items along with the program receiving some hefty donations at the start of May. These will be able to keep the program alive through Spring and Summer.
The first of which is the $20,000 Resident Aid Fund of Tigard (RAFT) created by the City of the Tigard and the second being a $100,000 grant from Lam Research, of whom is one of the largest employers in the district. “Before we found out about these grants, we genuinely had questions about whether we could be able to even make it to the summer, let alone through the summer. So now we’ll be able to at least continue with our current capacity if schools open up in the fall,” Bowman said.
With the grants, Packed with Pride has been able to accumulate over $250,000 in donations to fund the program, but with the unpredictability in whether schools open back up immediately this Fall, they are still accepting donations. The program costs upwards of $12,000 a week for the nearly 850 food boxes and while following the CDC COVID-19 safety guidelines, Packed with Pride is seeking volunteers while they still determine the amount of need in the community.
“There is so much uncertainty about the future and many are going through a really scary time right now. I think that a lot of folks feel grateful to do something really productive and useful for the community as well as helping the people who need it,” Bowman said.
Volunteer jobs span from delivery and distribution to unloading pallets of food, packing food boxes and disinfection. Over 7000 boxes have been distributed across the 850 families from their headquarters at the Tigard High School cafeteria.
“What we recognize is that this is absolutely a marathon and not a sprint. This economic recovery is not going to happen overnight so we need to sustain our pace over the next several months if we want to meet the needs of the community.”
To learn more about Packed with Pride, please see: