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Agriculture under secretary Kevin Concannon tours Beaverton nutrition programs

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Kevin Concannon, an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, speaks with Marni Kuyl, director of Washington County Health & Human Services, during a tour of two nutritional programs at the Beaverton Activities Center.

A top federal official took some of the lessons he learned on a swing through Washington County last week back with him to Washington, D.C.

Kevin Concannon, the under secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who oversees nutrition assistance programs, spent part of last Friday touring two area programs that his agency benefits.

The programs, a breast-feeding support group for Spanish-speaking mothers and an after-school supper at the Beaverton Police Activities League, are both located in the Beaverton Activities Center, 12500 S.W. Allen Blvd.

“Oregon is a leader,” said Concannon, who worked for the state during the 1980s and 1990s. “There’s a willingness to try different approaches to things.”

His first stop was a prenatal breast-feeding peer counseling group, which is part of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children Program, best known as WIC.

“The work that you are part of is one of the best things we do in this country,” he told the Spanish-speaking participants with interpreting help from Lynne Reinoso, manager of the state of Oregon’s child nutrition programs. “What you’re doing for your children and yourselves is one of the best investments you can make.”

Marni Kuyl, director of Washington County Health & Human Services, said Concannon’s visit to one of the programs they operate highlights the work this and other counties have done to help make Oregon one of the top states for breast-feeding participation.

“It also highlights that we’re doing some innovative work that the rest of the country can learn from,” she said.

One of Kuyl’s employees, lactation consultant Jeanette Howard, was part of a state working group that created strategies helping to elevate the number of women who start feeding their babies exclusively with breast milk, considered the healthiest alternative for women who are able to breast-feed their babies.

On his second stop, just down the hallway at PAL, Concannon visited with a handful of low-income children eating pizza, fruit and other foods in a meals program that also involves local, state and federal agencies.

“Sometimes this is the last meal these kids will eat until Monday,” said Joyce Dougherty, director of the Oregon Department of Education’s child nutrition programs.

Susan Barker, the Beaverton School District’s administrator for Nutrition Services, said much of the credit for PAL’s supper program goes to Glori Johnson, who is a cafeteria worker in the district by day who then works as a youth development coordinator at PAL.

“When I first got here, we didn’t have a meals program,” said Johnson, who worked with Barker’s department to secure funding for PAL’s after-school meals. Today Johnson’s kitchen serves an average of 177 hot meals each week to students who come to PAL for homework help and fun activities.

“I’m here to help make change,” she said. “It’s awesome to be a part of.”

“We’re very proud of Oregon,” Concannon said before wrapping up his tour.

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