Carrie Erb knows what it’s like to sit quietly in the school cafeteria, watching your friends eat their lunches, waiting to see who doesn’t finish theirs.

Then she’d have something to eat herself.

She never wants another boy or girl to go through that, or to feel embarrassed by growing up with less than their classmates. That’s why Erb, the owner of Promodern Salon, and several other Oregon business owners have teamed up with the Friends of the Oregon School District (FOSD) for a new program to help kids in need over the holidays.

“FriendsGiving” runs through Saturday, Nov. 24, to raise funds for food packs so Oregon School District kids in need don’t go hungry over school breaks. During the promotion, Promodern Salon, The Chocolate Caper, Bergey Jewelry and Peaceful Heart are joining together to raise funds from promotions and customer donations for the FOSD food pack program to provide kids in need with nutritious food during holiday breaks from school.

And while “FriendsGiving” may not be an official holiday yet, FOSD president Christine Erickson said the group hopes it becomes another permanent part of the season.

“It is important for us to help create awareness that some families in our district are struggling and that there is a way to help wrap our arms these children to ensure they are able to focus and thrive in school,” she told the Observer.

Oregon High School principal Jim Pliner said some families have struggled to keep pace with the costs of school-related activities and some “rite of passage” type of experiences that open doors to teens and young adults. He credited the FOSD for partnering with the district to help meet those needs.

“They have expanded their mission and this has made a strong impact on many of our students across the district” he wrote in an email to the Observer. “Supporting the Friends of the Oregon School District helps support local students and their families. This makes our community stronger.”

Numbers on the rise

There is a growing number of children in the district who are dealing with food insecurity.

While there are around 50 more students in the district than last year, there are nearly 100 more who qualify for free or reduced lunch, continuing a trend over the past several years.

But those numbers, Erickson pointed out, only indicate families that qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program, not those who are “going through a rough patch or exceed federal poverty guidelines but are just not able to make ends meet.” To help fill that void, FOSD has programs to pay off students’ lunch balances, provide snacks for schools and the holiday food packs.

“The kids that are normally getting free or reduced breakfast and lunch, when there is no school they’re going home and a lot of times there is not a breakfast or lunch or sometimes a dinner that day,” she said. “We provide as nutrient-rich and as much food as we can into these food break bags for the kids and each child will receive a bag with breakfast, lunch, snack and other items for each day that they’re off.”

Erb said while there are “100 reasons” why parents may not fill out paperwork to receive free or reduced lunch, the important thing is for people in the community to help those in need.

“That’s why this program is so amazing. By identifying a child in need by the staff or even another parent, and by keeping it discreet, I feel it helps that much more,” she said. “Because it’s not singling out those kids. They are already struggling enough, they have enough going on.”

Even if people choose not to donate to the program, Erb said it’s helpful to raise awareness of the subject.

“You’d be surprised at how many people don’t realize there is a need here in this community,” she said. “But they want to make a difference. Oregon is such a special community, because of the people. It’s a help-your-neighbor-out type of community.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.

Rising poverty levels at OSD

School year 2017-18 2018-19
Enrollment 4,047 4,096
Economically disadvantaged 655 (16.2%) 753 (18.4)
(Source — official ‘Third Friday’ student counts)