Pacific University students and alumni look "upstream" to find solutions to endemic hunger and malnutrition among Oregon's bounty.Jenni Luckett | Editor
“When you hear the statistics about people’s food needs and how Oregon is one of, if not the most, food deficient in the country—every little bit counts.”
That’s what Kaely Summers ’08 calls “looking upstream” at the root causes of hunger and the factors that can help people move out of a cycle of poverty.
Summers got her introduction to hunger issues in middle school, when her Tacoma, Wash., church opened My Sister’s Pantry, now one of the largest food banks in the Tacoma area.
“It gave me a look at what’s really going on and made me think about priorities,” she said. “Every time I made a purchase, I was thinking how much food that could buy and feed how many people.”
As an international studies major at Pacific, she traveled extensively, getting a better sense of issues of poverty and hunger around the world. After graduation, she stayed on as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, connecting the Pacific community with local food- and hunger-related projects. Today, she is the manager of the Forest Grove Farmer’s Market.
“Emergency food assistance is extremely important,” she said. “But we’re also looking at how people can be more self-sustaining.”
Pacific students, staff and faculty are actively involved in a number of projects, she said, including alternative fall and spring breaks where students work in San Francisco and Tacoma (including at My Sister’s Pantry). Staff members volunteer with the Forest Grove Summer Food Program, which feeds free lunches to students in local parks when school meals are unavailable.
“I think students are becoming more aware of (hunger) with the recession and with it being more out in the open. People who have never been homeless before or who have gone through foreclosures or are now newly hungry—these issues are popping up more and more,” Summers said. “Students aren’t blind to that and are interested in how they can make a difference or investigate what is going on or look upstream more.”
Students helped start the Give and Go project, run by the Center for Civic Engagement, to recycle unwanted household items, including food, when students move off campus in the spring. And, students have worked hard to develop relationships with the dining services company that provides meals in the University Center and at University events—they work to reduce waste, compost food scraps and collect unused food to be delivered to food pantries and shelters.
“What I found at Pacific is that when there’s student energy behind it and passion for making change, it may take a little bit of direction, but students want change and push for that and oftentimes it’s very successful,” Summers said.
An example is a gleaning program in the Forest Grove area. Leda Glastonbury ’12 grew up in the hills near Glide, Ore., “off the grid” until she was 10. A lifelong vegetarian, Glastonbury got something of a reputation among her Pacific friends for her love of fruit.
“I’ve always been really into food. There are pictures of me as a little kid petting strawberries,” she laughed, adding that the “spirit of Leda” is the ubiquitous Northwest blackberry.