The statistics are staggering. Over 25,000 individuals received 800,000 pounds of emergency food last year in Columbia County, according to Tracy Smith of the Columbia Pacific Food Bank. Smith says, 'The hunger (problem) never goes away and never slows down.'

That there is so much hunger in a throwaway society such as ours says a great deal about the state of national priorities. Statistics, however are cold and don't do much to mobilize the kind of grassroots movement needed to, if not alleviate, at least mitigate the hunger issue.

Those who see the personal side of the hunger issue: food bank workers, teachers, medical personnel, and social workers tell stories that can touch the hearts of the most callused. Smith says they are seeing more senior citizens who can no longer make ends meet on their fixed income. Their situation is not going to improve - only worsen as they get older and more infirm.

The food bank has seen a rise in the number of seasonal workers needing food assistance and, maybe most surprisingly, families with two adults working unable to purchase the food they need to keep their kids well fed.

Kids fidgeting in the classroom, watching the clock that signals lunch, tells much more than the statistics do about hungry children. Many of these kids receive reduced-cost breakfast and lunches at school, but three decent meals are needed, not two, for growing children to prosper.

School nurses, doctors, dentists, probation officers all have firsthand experience with children and their parents who struggle daily to get the recommended nutrients for health. Rotting teeth, skin lesions, poor eyesight, aggressive behaviors are all signs of poor nutrition.

On March 28, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the St. Helens Senior Center on S. 15th Street, community members can do something to help the condition of hunger in Columbia County. Sponsored by Columbia County Commission on Children and Families (CCCCF), the Empty Bowls fundraiser takes a stand against hunger.

The Empty Bowls project, the idea of a Michigan art teacher, raises money for the Columbia Pacific Food Bank. Local potters donate bowls to the fundraiser, participants for their $10 donation choose an empty bowl from the display and have it filled with donated soup, choose from a variety of breads, also donated, sit at a community table and eat. The bowl is theirs to take as a gift and a reminder that there are many empty bowls to fill in our community.

Mark's on the Channel, The Red Line, The Klondike, the Wild Currant, Houlton's Bakery, Starbucks, and the Dockside have stepped up and donated food for the Empty Bowls.

Local merchants have generously donated items to the silent auction to increase the evening's take. Music will be provided to add to the evening's enjoyment.

Every dollar taken in is given to the food bank, and every aspect of the event is volunteered: the food from local restaurateurs, the auction items from local merchants, the music and pottery from local artists.

The $10 tickets are available at St. Helens Book Shop, Houlton's Bakery and from the CCCCF office in the courthouse. For information you can call 503-397-7211.

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