BEND (AP) — The students at Warm Springs K-8 Academy are all smiles whenever they receive a treat at school — fresh fruit and other produce they can take home to their families.
It is part of central Oregon's first produce delivery service that sends fresh food directly to those who need it. A majority of the students at the academy are enrolled in the free or reduced-lunch program, and with the nearest grocery store 15 miles away in Madras, many families on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation don't have easy access to fresh produce.
The student cravings for fresh fruit got the attention of one teacher in particular, music teacher Cassy Pinard.
"I had quite a few kids coming asking for a snack or seeing a piece of fruit on my desk and wanting it," she said. "It became pretty apparent that there was a need for more access to fresh produce and getting that into kids' hands. To them, (fruit) is a treat."
Her students would choose fresh fruit over a piece of candy 90 percent of the time, and that was enough for Pinard to get involved, she said.
Pinard — who has been with the academy for two years — used her previous teaching experience in Portland to start an outreach campaign. She put feelers out for community support or nearby resources available to the school.
Her call for help was answered by NeighborImpact, a nonprofit that coordinates resources for low-income residents.
Planning the first produce drop took about six months, Pinard said, and the first produce was delivered Oct. 26. The hope is to deliver once a month to the academy.
NeighborImpact helped schedule the delivery through the Oregon Food Bank. The produce — more than 5,000 pounds of apples, pears and potatoes and 1,000 bottles of water — was loaded into Oregon Food Bank trucks in Redmond and dropped off at the K-8 Academy in Warm Springs on the route back to Portland.
At the school, teachers and NeighborImpact volunteers divided the produce into bins and set out grocery bags to create an outside "market" for the kids, said Carly Sanders, Food Program Manager at NeighborImpact.
"It was so cute because the kids got to go grocery shopping," she said. "We saw lots of smiley faces and it was a gorgeous day. We had a great time and everyone was really happy. For us, it was totally brand new; it was really great to connect with students and families and talk to them about how their day is going and what their needs are."
One of the most interesting aspects of the first produce drop, Sanders said, was that both parents and students only took what they were going to use.
"People take what they know they're going to eat," she said. "Some take just a handful and some folks who knew how to cook and preserve took home a box to do applesauce and apple butter."
The latest produce drop featured carrots and potatoes that families could use for the holidays or to make bigger batches of stews or soups during colder winter months, Pinard said.
NeighborImpact will continue working with teachers and students to learn more about the community and its needs, Sanders said. More information will allow the nonprofit to tweak the efficiency of the distribution methods, getting more produce into more hands.
"We wanted to gear it more toward Thanksgiving with foods they can use for the holiday," Pinard said. "We want kids to fill their backpacks, and this time around we get to see what the kids really need and want to take home with them."