Irma Dowd, left, an Auburn Elementary parent and city of Salem worker, delivers pies to the school's community outreach coordinator, Yuri Coronado, on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Elisa Evert thought some fresh cookies might help her coworkers at Swegle Elementary School feel appreciated during a difficult year.

Evert, the school’s community outreach coordinator, asked for help from east Salem community groups to fund a small cookie order.

One month later, she’s getting a bit more than she bargained for: over 5,800 personal-sized pies.

Volunteers on Wednesday began an ambitious effort to deliver a fresh cherry or apple pie to every teacher, janitor, bus driver, office assistant and school employee in the Salem-Keizer School District.

“I’m getting to send probably everybody’s favorite email of the year titled, ‘Pie,’ said Katie Shumway, principal at Auburn Elementary School, as she wheeled a cart of pies into the school office.

The effort grew out of Community and Partners of East Salem, a group organized by the nonprofit Salem Leadership Foundation. The goal is to connect schools, community organizations and interested citizens to discuss ideas and projects that would benefit the neighborhood and make it easier to coordinate volunteers or share resources.

Pies from Willamette Valley Pie Company await educators in the Auburn Elementary School office on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The leadership foundation has a budget for small grants for projects, and Evert said she’s often approached them for help with things like school supplies or clothing for Swegle families.

In a Jan. 6 meeting, she’d hoped to get money for a small order of cookies, something to convey to Swegle’s educators that “we appreciate you, we see you,” she said.

Jackie Franke, chair of Chemeketa Community College’s Board of Education and a longtime Salem education advocate, had a connection at Willamette Valley Pie Company and suggested involving them.

Soon, the project snowballed beyond Swegle.

The pie company agreed to provide pies at wholesale cost. Local businesses, the Rotary Club of East Salem, Marion County Fire District #1 and others chipped in, with a total of $36,000 in donations, Franke said.

Bud Pierce, a Salem oncologist and Republican candidate for governor, contributed $5,000 in honor of his father, a school janitor, Franke said.

The district’s facilities department made a spreadsheet of employees at each school and district building, which volunteers used to calculate pie requirements.

On Wednesday morning, volunteers with Salem First Church of the Nazarene packed boxes of pies in the church’s lobby, giving every school and district worker a flier letting them know they’re appreciated.

Volunteers will deliver pies to schools in batches over the next three days.

A volunteer at Salem First Church of the Nazarene prepare pies to be delivered to Salem schools on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A card from the pie company includes a quote from American playwright David Mamet: “Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”

Shumway said this school year has been the most stressful many educators have faced, “feeling like there’s constant, constant outside pressure of not doing enough, not catching kids up fast enough.”

“Everyone's feeling that stress and it’s nobody’s fault there’s a pandemic,” she said.

A fresh cherry pie can’t fix those problems, but Shumway said having a tangible way to show employees they’re appreciated helps. Having food is especially nice, she said, because schools can’t spend their state or federal money on things like snacks for employees.

Sam Skillern, executive director of the leadership foundation, said their hope is to inspire others in the community to reach out to their local schools and find tangible ways to help educators and let them know they’re appreciated.

Evert said she’s grateful for the ways the community has supported Swegle.

“I just wanted a small little cookie order. The more the merrier!” she said.

Yuri Coronado, Auburn Elementary's community school outreach coordinator, unpacks donated pies on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!