In just about 15 minutes, these volunteers can fill enough sacks to provide food for 200 kids in the Baker School District.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” Courtney Crowell said as the volunteers make a continuous loop around the table, plastic bags in hand.
This is the Baker City Backpack Program, a project that for 12 years has worked with the district to provide sustenance for youth over the typical three-day weekend.
The volunteers met June 2 for the final time before school let out for the summer. The program starts up again in September.
During the past two years their work changed for health precautions — for instance, making two stations instead of one to spread out volunteers.
Also, the school district delivered the bags of food to homes when students were attending school online.
“That was the only way we could make sure it was getting to kids,” Crowell said. “It was incredible.”
In a typical year, volunteers gather on Thursday morning in the basement of First Presbyterian Church, just across Washington Avenue from Baker Middle School. Each person grabs a sack, then walks around the table to grab food items sorted into boxes.
Each bag contains enough for three breakfast meals, and dinner options such as soup, chili or macaroni and cheese. Other items include granola bars, applesauce and fresh fruit.
Once a month, each bag also gets a jar of peanut butter.
“The most expensive and most wanted item is peanut butter,” Crowell said.
This program is supported by grants and monetary donations with 100% of the funds going to the purchase of food.
Volunteers buy food locally at Albertsons, Bimart and Grocery Outlet, as well as Costco and Waremart.
(When they have big orders, a crew of Baker Middle School students come across the street to help unload.)
On occasion, Crowell said they have run a “Fill the Pantry” drive at churches and schools to request specific food items.
“We want it to be the same for every kid every week,” Crowell said.
About 15 volunteers help pack the bags of food, then pack eight sacks into each of the plastic bins labeled for specific schools.
The number varies week to week, but has hovered close to 200 this year.
After packing, the bins are loaded into rigs and delivered to the destinations by Shannon Downing, Jim Tomlinson, Tim Kerns, and Rick and Ginger Rembold.
On the last day of this school year, before all the volunteers dispersed to deliver or go back to their jobs, Crowell gathered everyone together.
“You guys are the heart and soul of this program,” she said. “We couldn’t do this without you.”
Anyone who would like to make a donation to support the program can send it to the Baker City Backpack Program, in care of First Presbyterian Church, 1995 Fourth St., Baker City, OR 97814.