With Cannon Beach Elementary School permanently closed and a charter school at least a year from opening, the Cannon Beach Backpack Program and its nonprofit umbrella organization, the Cannon Beach Food Systems, will dissolve as well.
The food systems leaders will transfer the bulk of their assets to the nonprofit Food 4 Kids Seaside, said Marty Schwab Harris, manager of the backpack program, which helped launch Food 4 Kids in 2011. The entire process should be finished by end of this month, she said.
All of the students from Cannon Beach now attend schools in Seaside, so it makes sense for the Food 4 Kids program to be responsible for meeting the students’ supplemental nutrition needs, she said.
The Food 4 Kids program currently serves more than 200 students attending Seaside Heights Elementary, Gearhart Elementary and Broadway Middle schools, said Rosemary Kemper-Riddock, co-chairwoman of Food 4 Kids.
The Cannon Beach backpack program began in February 2009 giving backpacks full of food to children from the community’s low-income families.
Although the Seaside School District Board closed Cannon Beach Elementary School in June 2013, the backpack program stayed in existence, the leaders believing that the Cannon Beach Academy charter school would open within one to two years.
“Initially, it looked like the Cannon Beach Academy was going to proceed very quickly,” Schwab Harris said.
But it now appears that the academy won’t be ready until 2016, at the earliest.
What’s more, the Cannon Beach Food Pantry — the other supplemental food program that began under the Cannon Beach Food Systems — left the food systems for the aegis of the Cannon Beach Community Church last January.
So, at the moment, the backpack program doesn’t have a reason to continue and neither does the food systems, Schwab Harris said.
“I think it’s a shame that (the backpack program) is dissolving, but it makes sense when there’s no school to serve (in Cannon Beach),” Kemper-Riddock said.
Kemper-Riddock was the principal at Cannon Beach Elementary School when the backpack program began.
“It is actually fairly expensive to maintain a nonprofit even if it’s not doing anything,” Schwab Harris said. With insurance and tax filings, the nonprofit had to pay at least $1,500 a year, she said. “It all adds up.”
The food systems will give Food 4 Kids more than $32,000 — an amount that would allow them to serve K-8 students for a year, she said.
In addition, the Cannon Beach Food Pantry will receive more than $2,000, along with a refrigerator and some shelving units, to help establish itself at its new location, a portable building on the former elementary school property, she said.
“That just shows you the generosity that the community has shown,” she said. Since it started operating almost six years ago, the backpack program relied primarily on donations from local residents and second homeowners, as well as grants from the city and the Oregon Community Foundation. “We’ve had an embarrassment of riches.”
Every week, the backpack program tried to ensure that children had enough food through weekends and holiday breaks, roughly three meals a day plus snacks.
“The whole idea was that this would be kid-friendly,” Schwab Harris said. “It was food that the kids didn’t need to have someone help them prepare.”
On Thursdays, the program’s volunteers would gather at the Cannon Beach Bible Church and stuff backpacks (many of which were donated from Costco) with assorted items that changed from week to week: juice, cheese, crackers, yogurt, fruit cups, pudding cups, mac-and-cheese cups, veggie bags, hard-boiled eggs, sandwich meats, cans of soup, oatmeal packets, small boxes of cereal, shelf-safe milk, half a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter to last a month, and so on.
“We worried that sometimes the kids were going to put these backpacks on and fall over backwards,” she said. Fortunately, this never happened. “We never had a casualty from a backpack.”
As more donations poured in, Schwab and Karen Hoyt, president of the food systems board, were able to buy higher-quality food.
“The food got better as the program went on, that’s for sure,” Hoyt said. “We tried to have higher standards as our funds permitted.”
In its early days, the program served about 15 of the approximately 90 students at Cannon Beach Elementary. Then, “as the economy went into the tailspin, there were more and more families who felt that they could use the supplemental food over the weekends,” she said.
By the time the school closed, about half the students were signed up for the backpack program.
Though they didn’t means test anyone, “I don’t think we had any kids who weren’t in the free and reduced breakfast and lunch program,” Schwab Harris said.
As the local economy improved, some parents found jobs or got promoted and were able to leave the backpack program.
“I know that some people in the community probably had the idea that we were being played for suckers in some instances,” Hoyt said. “And so it was just so gratifying when there were several (families) whose economic status improved, (and) they said we no longer need the program.”
At least one family wrote the program’s leaders a note of thanks for helping them get through such tough times, Schwab Harris said.
“I’d known Cannon Beach all my life as a pretty wealthy community,” Kemper-Riddock said, “but because of all the people who support the tourist industry ... there are families who don’t have much money, and it was a great program to those families.”
“We can certainly be very proud of the program,” Hoyt said.
“And of all the volunteers that stuck with us through thick and thin,” Schwab Harris added.
If the Cannon Beach Academy comes to fruition, the backpack program would probably start up again, she said.
“Everyone thinks that children should be fed,” Hoyt said. “No one should go hungry, and, really, it’s a very, very bad idea not to feed your next generation and have them as well nourished as possible for the future.”