Pacific University students and alumni look "upstream" to find solutions to endemic hunger and malnutrition among Oregon's bounty.Jenni Luckett | Editor
The Oregon Food Bank provides an array of resources throughout Oregon—and needs plenty of help. In the wake of the national recession and housing crisis, need in Oregon has increased dramatically, said Amber Young, a member of OFB’s communication team.
In 2010-11, the OFB Network distributed more than 1 million emergency food boxes, a 12 percent increase over the previous year and a record that OFB staffers never wanted to reach. That emergency food fed more than 260,000 people in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., a third of whom were children. At 29.2 percent, Oregon has the country’s highest rate of food insecurity among children.
“That always hits home to me when I think about all this stuff we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Young said.
Food distribution is, of course, a significant portion of OFB’s work. The food bank collects everything from surplus nonperishables and excess dairy, meat and produce from the food industry to USDA staples and food drive donations. That food is distributed throughout the OFB Network, which includes 20 regional food banks and 923 partner agencies, such as local food pantries, soup kitchens, churches and shelters.
But OFB’s mission isn’t just to feed the hungry today; it’s to end hunger and hunger’s root causes, a much harder prospect. Worldwide, one in seven people don’t have enough food to be healthy and active, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.
It’s about poverty, of course. It’s also about education—to meaningfully sustain a family income, to make healthy and affordable food choices, to safely store and prepare food, to access help when it’s needed or available.
It’s also about natural disasters and climate change, the impact of high gas prices and fuel shortages on agriculture and distribution, and the proliferation of foods that may fill stomachs without providing necessary nutrients.
At OFB, Young said, the work has to go beyond providing food in emergency situations; the organization also works on advocacy and education.
It’s in the latter that the Dobbs find their calling. They work with OFB’s nutrition education program, which—among other things—conducts six-week courses in healthy cooking for those in need. Students might include teen parents or adolescents transitioning out of foster care, adults in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, or people referred by partnering social services agencies. Volunteer chefs and assistants lead the classes, in which students prepare specific meals themselves then go home with the recipes and skills, and sometimes bags of ingredients, to make those meals for their families. The Dobbs spend hours every Monday at the OFB headquarters cleaning, sorting and packing kits of cooking utensils and staples, like spices, so the classes can be offered anywhere, from schools and community centers to apartment complexes.
They also have washed and folded laundry, repeatedly cleaned and organized the supply store room, helped set up the kitchen and education facilities at the OFB’s westside location and shopped for the courses, as needed, said Tricia Dobbs.
“There are just a myriad of things you can do,” she said.