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COOS COUNTY — The At Risk Kids Project is helping deliver hot meals to students in need, all prepared by local restaurants.

The school-based program provides basic needs for struggling students and crisis intervention in the best of times, but has gone the extra mile to connect with youth during the ongoing pandemic. ARK is delivering meals throughout the area prepared by Buzz, Top Dog Coffee Company, and Restaurant O.

“During the 9/11 tragedy, numerous New York restaurants united to provide meals for the firefighters and law enforcement who worked selflessly and risked their own health. We are facing a similar challenge with an invisible enemy that is taking thousands of lives to date,” read Restaurant O’s fundraiser Facebook page, asking to raise money so it can continue feeding homeless youth specifically in Coos Bay.

According to the page, Restaurant O is working with the Coos Bay School District to “provide meals for our disadvantaged community members who had been affected by the school closures and were reliant on the school lunches.”

“This started about four weeks ago when we found out we were not coming back,” said ARK Program Manager Melinda Torres, referring to the governor’s order for schools to implement distance learning rather than bring students back to the buildings.

“I talked to some (school district) attendance advocates, saying we need to work together because there is so much overlap in our services,” Torres recalled. “(The ARK) did outreach to the schools in the area, letting them know that if they have families who need more attention, we can do that for you. Schools are using us to deliver paperwork, do home visits if they can’t get a hold of them, and we will check in.”

And along with delivering homework, ARK is bringing hot meals to the students. Torres said Restaurant O is supplying food twice a week, while Buzz and Top Dog are supplying food once a week. The ARK said it has also partnered with the Waterfall Clinic, which provides fresh fruit every week.

“The kids are excited about it,” she said. “Restaurant O is a big one around here because it’s a higher end restaurant and (some) kids … have probably never seen anything like that.”

Torres said since delivering meals and school materials to homeless or disadvantaged youth in the area, ARK has encountered more and more families out of work and unsure of where to turn.

“These families don’t know where any of the social services are offered and have never been in this situation before,” Torres said.

According to Torres, over 20 new students and their families have been identified as needing ARK services in the past month.

“The best thing that came out of this is we’re getting updated information and finding out what’s really going on with these kids,” Torres said. “We’ve put in extra effort to make sure everyone has the same opportunities as everyone else and that they feel supported.”

She said that the ARK hopes the current partnership with the restaurants continues into the summer. Until then, ARK is utilizing two grants to further provide for students during the summer.

Additional ARK Services

The ARK, partnered with the Bandon Community Youth Center, received a $1,500 grant from United Way. This grant is helping them create 180 “activity bags” for elementary and middle school students, which will be handed out in June. These bags contain “fun craft projects for kiddos to do,” Torres said.

The second grant is $5,000 from Wild Rivers Coast Alliance to provide 120 hygiene bags each month from now through September. These bags will be distributed between all Coos County school districts and from there be handed out to students in need.

“If it wasn’t for the grant, we would not be able to give out any hygiene bags,” Torres said. “We will start giving those out this week.”

These bags contain basic hygiene items, including shampoo, soap, and a toothbrush.

The ARK is available to help any homeless, or at risk to become homeless, youth or family. Right now, it is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. by appointment.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 541-267-3104 ext. 7115.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236, or by email at worldnews1@countrymedia.net. Follow her on Twitter: @je_wardwriter.

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