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Can we increase 'food security'?

Area leaders offer tips to fight hunger

Kenneth and Shirley Newman marked 44 years of marriage this month, and act like they fell in love just yesterday.

Kenneth politely defers to his longtime love like a young man trying to impress a prom date.Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Kenneth Newman, left, and his wife, Shirley Newman, get assistance from volunteer Lukas Hilger, right, while shopping for food at SnowCap Community Charities Dec. 11 in Gresham.

“I’ll let the lady decide,” Kenneth repeatedly says in response to one query or another, as they walk through the warehouse of SnowCap Community Charities in Rockwood.

The friendly couple shares easy laughs over how Kenneth put the wedding band on the wrong finger of Shirley’s left hand when they married.

The retirees also share a life fraught with struggle, living on fixed incomes and getting by on donated food from time to time.

Yet neither Kenneth nor Shirley seems at all bothered that they must take a bus from their home on 82nd Avenue every now and then to SnowCap Community Charities to pick up free groceries. The agency provides food, clothing and other services to low-income folks in East County.Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Volunteer Lukas Hilger asks Shirley Newman if she would like frozen food items as she finishes shopping for food at SnowCap Community Charities.

“Every time we come here, we get a warm smile,” Kenneth says, adding he and his wife have broad tastes.

“As long as it’s food, I’m happy,” Kenneth says as he gently escorts his spouse through SnowCap’s warehouse, where they fill bags with such items as lettuce, grapefruit juice and pumpkin pie.

Deontrel Hill, SnowCap’s social services coordinator, says the Newmans represent 40 percent of SnowCap’s clientele — senior citizens, some of whom are shut-ins and whom the agency assists by sending volunteers monthly to deliver bags of food.

Hunger here

Sixty-six percent of Rockwood residents have a hard time stretching their food budget each month, according to a 2013 survey organized by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership and other groups.Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Shirley Newman, left, and her husband, Kenneth Newman, prepare their groceries for travel home after finishing shopping for food at SnowCap Community Charities Dec. 11 in Gresham.

Meanwhile, SnowCap feeds more than 8,000 people every month, and the Oregon Food Bank notes statewide 270,000 people use food boxes from such places as SnowCap.

In an effort to increase “food security,” a group of area anti-hunger leaders and activists met Dec. 9 with Oregon House Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, at Human Solutions, 124 N.E. 181st Ave.

Attendees included representatives of Birch Community Services, Oregon Food Bank, SnowCap, Human Solutions and the Rockwood Food Opportunity Project. The town hall meeting drew more than 30 people.Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Shirley Newman, left, and her husband, Kenneth, use public transportation to get to SnowCap Community Charities.

Among the issues the attendees discussed were the perceived lack of adequate wages for many workers, the hurdles low-income parents face juggling childcare duties, work and shopping, and the need for more food-friendly government policies.

Following the meeting, The Outlook talked to folks there about what they found interesting in the discussion, and what they would like to see happen to end hunger.

Gorsek notes that part of the problem is folks in the lower-income brackets struggle to pay for food, especially if they are living on the minimum wage. Currently, the Oregon minimum wage is $9.10 per hour. Neighboring Washington state has the nation’s highest state-level minimum wage, at $9.32. Meanwhile, by 2021, all businesses in Seattle will be required to pay $15 per hour.

“I think one of the ways to increase the amount of money that people have to spend on food is to make sure that they are being paid well,” Gorsek says. “Thus, an increase in the minimum wage is something that we should seriously consider doing.”

Gorsek urged constituents to chime in on food insecurity and its related issues.

“Writing personal emails and letters helps me and my colleagues understand how important an issue is to the people living in our districts,” he says.

He adds that he’s particularly concerned about children getting enough to eat.

“Hungry children do not develop well, are frequently ill and cannot perform well in school if they are hungry,” he says.

Fran Weick directs resident services at Human Solutions, which works on such issues as affordable housing, family support, job readiness training and economic development opportunities. Weick says the lack of grocery stores is problematic in East County.

“This is particularly important since so many residents do not have cars, so grocery shopping is tremendously time consuming,” she says. “This ties directly into the lack of adequate transportation and the cost of transporting an entire family on the bus to grocery shop.”

Her agency participates in a summer lunch program, which operates at six apartment complexes in Rockwood.

“This program definitely assists families with hunger issues and their food budgets,” she says.

She also wants to see the minimum wage raised and believes it’s time to raise the income levels at which families are allowed to receive public assistance.

Megan Newell-Ching works as agency capacity and education manager for the Oregon Food Bank. She says she was particularly interested in the town hall discussion about how seniors and folks with disabilities fare when they face food shortages.

“Transportation, social isolation, the need for specific kinds of food may be particularly pressing for that population of folks,” she notes.

She says the Oregon Food Bank plans to focus on increasing the nutritional quality of the food it provides to its partner agencies in the next year, as well as how to better help people needing assistance where they are most able to access food readily. She says the food bank will ask state legislators to increase the state’s contribution to the Oregon Hunger Response Fund.

“Food banks use the funds to buy, store and move food, as well as pay for staff and facilities and help clients connect to other services,” she says. “With uncertainty in regard to funding on the federal level, we will need a bigger contribution from the state of Oregon to continue helping our neighbors who struggle to make ends meet.”

Matt Bartolotti, chief strategy officer for Metropolitan Family Service, says his agency operates food pantries in such schools as Reynolds Middle and David Douglas High as well as several elementary schools in East County.

“Through the MFS community school programs, we partner with many of the agencies that were present at the town hall meeting as well as recruit parents and student volunteers to run our food pantries,” he says. “Our community school based food pantries are an effective and efficient means of distributing food to students and families in need, and is a low-cost, efficient way to extend and support the efforts of other anti-hunger services like community gardens and harvest share programs.”

The pantries also teach “marketable skills ... that have helped one volunteer secure a job within the school district,” he adds.

Ray Keen, development manager for Birch Community Services Inc., says his agency wants anti-hunger advocates to think creatively.

“Over 30 percent of the food in America is wasted,” he says. “There is not a shortage of food, there is a shortage of creativity in how to equitably distribute it. There may be a limited supply of cash for which nonprofits compete, but there is unlimited potential to engage people in solving social problems.”

Birch promotes “personal responsibility,” he says, because that’s “an essential component of breaking free of the poverty cycle.”

“The families who receive food from us are responsible for growing fresh produce in community gardens, picking up food from retailers and restaurants, and stocking the shelves with food in our warehouse,” he says. “There is real dignity in knowing that your family is being fed in part by your efforts. As a side benefit, only 34 percent of the funds Birch requires to operate come from cash donations. We are modeling the self-sufficiency we teach our families.”

When it comes to the political realm, Keen says he’d like to see the government fund programs that “engage the clients in stabilizing their life through goal setting, service, mentoring and a thorough review process.”

Upcoming event

n The Rockwood Food Opportunity Project will showcase murals and offer food demonstrations at El Porvenir, 25 S.E. 162nd Ave., Portland, from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20.

Presented by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s Interfaith Food & Farms Partnership in collaboration with the Rockwood community and local retail venders, including Sundries Market and El Porvenir, Healthy Retail is a national movement that is improving access to fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods that lack grocery stores.

n Interfaith Advocacy Day 2015 takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11, starting at St. Mark Lutheran Church, 790 Marion St., Salem.

A day of interfaith worship, dialogue, education and advocacy on behalf of Oregonians facing hunger, homelessness or lack of access to affordable health care, activities include an interfaith panel on “Confronting Poverty, Promoting Economic Equality and Preventing Gun Violence,” training in advocacy skills, issue briefings, visits with legislators and a keynote address by Nichole June Maher, director of Northwest Health Foundation.

The afternoon will feature a procession to the State Capitol and meetings with legislators.

Individuals and groups from congregations and organizations are encouraged to participate.

The registration fee is $20 per person ($10 for students) and includes lunch and materials.

Register online or download a registration form at emoregon.org.

For more information, call 503-221-1054. Deadline is Feb. 4.

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