Randy Robbins, Pilot staff writer

Volunteers meet every Tuesday at the Christian Help Center to pack food boxes for the Snack Pack program that benefits children at Riley Creek School.

About 180 food boxes are delivered on Friday at the end of the school day to give the students food for the weekend. The food is distributed because, according to Principal Tom Denning, 75 percent of the children in kindergarten through eighth grade have some degree of food insecurity.

The Snack Pack program was the brainchild of Sylvia Lopez and Pat Barnett seven years ago. Lopez was heading up the local food bank and saw a need that was outside the organization's reach.

"We knew that there were children locally that were struggling over the weekends to get nutritious meals." Lopez said.

They decided to look into providing healthy snacks to be picked up by the children who are on the reduced or free lunch program at Riley Creek.

"Some Coos Bay food distribution coordinators came down to lend us a hand to get things rolling, but when they saw what we already had in place in the way of facilities, volunteers, and donations - they said they weren't needed." Lopez said. "We have quite a community here."

The program costs $32,000 dollars to maintain over the nine month school year. But food prices are going up. The typical snack pack costs anywhere from $1 to $1.50 more to produce than it did two years ago, Lopez said.

The nonprofit Christian Help is a "people to people" movement entirely funded by groups such as Soroptimist, churches, Moose Lodge, Rotary, and walk-in volunteers. Lopez said there are also anonymous individual child sponsorships available that some donors choose. The cost is $150 to support a child for a year.

Sandra Turner is the groups buyer making purchases primarily through Costco and Sysco, which deliver directly to Christian Help.

Brian Denman is the set-up man getting the snacks organized for bagging.

Sandra Sorenson pointed to shelves lined with banana boxes and said, "We can put 16 snack bags to each box." Typical snack packs contain juices, pudding cups, applesauce, fruit cups, peanut butter crackers, chewy snacks, sweet and salty snacks, cheese, raisins, and a jerky.

"We try to vary the meals whenever possible," Joan Goodison said. She remembers the day a cafeteria worker took her aside to share an event which still brings tears to her eyes.

This school food server noticed one youngster loading up his plate. It was heaped high spilling over with a second helping. When she quizzed the youth about the large amount of food he was attempting to contain on his tray, the boy quickly looked down at his feet, his face reddening slightly, before whispering in a low voice "It wasn't my turn to eat yesterday."

"No child should ever go hungry. That's our motto around here," Sorenson said.

Denning praised the program and its volunteers. "Thanks to them, these kids are more attentive on Monday mornings and are ready to learn."

Denning enjoys how the Snack Pack volunteers handle everything so smoothly.

"They bring the snacks and hand them out without costing us any lost class time," Denning said. "The kids just head through the cafeteria where the bags are waiting for them on Friday after school."

For more information on the Snack Pack program, to donate, volunteer, or sponsor a child, call 541-247-4054 or mail donations designated to the Snack Pack Program to the Food Bank, P.O. Box 377, Gold Beach, OR 97444.