During tough times, it’s nice to have some help, and now families in the Oregon School District have a growing group of “friends” who intend to do just that.

Looking to fill a void in the community, Christine Erickson, Krista Flanagan, Karin Victorson, Wendy Borden and Julie Swartzmiller – all parents of district students – have been working for months to found the Friends of Oregon School District. The group is ready to go for the upcoming school year that begins Sept. 1, with a goal to help provide food for district students in need.

Erickson, who serves as a spokesperson, said the main impetus for starting the group was to “build a community around the kids in need” and “eliminate basic need barriers to learning” as the number of impoverished students grows.

“We believe that education is really the key to building a rewarding future for those kids,” she said, adding a quote from educator Rita Pierson: “Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connects and insists they become the best they can possibly be.”

Erickson said that 10 years ago, the number of OSD students who qualified for free or reduced lunch was around 5 percent. Today, it’s nearly 20 percent, including more than 700 students.

“Some are just barely getting by, but don’t qualify,” she said. “Almost one in five needs some kind of help, and we need to be the connector piece, to connect those families to resources in the area and help break down some of those barriers, so teachers can focus on teaching students who are in the best place they can be to learn.”

To get started, group members conducted listening sessions with administrators and teachers in each of the district’s schools this past winter and spring. They learned there are four basic “need barriers” for students: hunger, transportation, technology and adult role models. The group is first going to address the hunger issue, Erickson said.

“We intend to tackle each topic but need to do them sequentially and get a system in process so we do them right and it’s a sustainable model,” she said.

District superintendent Brian Busler said district officials were “overjoyed with their interest and community spirit” when the Friends group approached them earlier this year.

“We were delighted this group of parents/community members saw our challenges and expressed an interest in helping our students,” he said in an email to the Observer on Tuesday. “This group of parents are incredibly talented, resourceful and committed to the greater good of Oregon Youth. They are true community partners helping our students and Oregon School District.”

How to help

The group is starting with three initiatives: providing snacks at school, supplying students with food backpacks during extended school breaks and promoting an “Adopt-a-Kid” lunch balance program to cover negative balances for school lunches.

“A lot of people in the community want to help but don’t know how,” Erickson said. “The five of us decided we would effect some positive change in the community, when so many awful things are going on in the world we can’t control, we can control how we love our community and support our kids and families.”

People can visit the group’s website, friendsofosd.com, or visit their Facebook page (search Friends of OSD) for more information, or to help. They can donate online, through the OSD campus portal payment system, or send a check to the Oregon Community Bank, made out to: Oregon Education Foundation-FOSD.

Families who would like assistance can contact the group through its website or by contacting their child’s school principal.

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