In an ordinary year,1,400 soup kitchens and food banks distribute food to between 800,000 and 900,000 of the six million people in Oregon – a shocking one out of seven. Step outside your front door and look at the six nearest homes, and ask yourself which would you like to be the family who can’t afford to buy food – or is it yours?
This year, with so many people unable to work due to the pandemic, the number who can’t afford to buy food is even higher. This creates two separate problems: the number of people at risk of going hungry is higher, and there are large quantities of crops and food animals which farmers have nowhere to send.
Farmers expected to send that food to grocery stores, canneries and restaurants. It’s now at risk of going to waste. If it goes to landfills, it will not only take up immense amounts of space, which planners hadn’t expected 2020’s garbage to require, it will also release huge amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases as it decomposes.
It’s because of that disposal problem that the managers of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) decided they ought to set aside $140,000 from their budget to give Oregon Food Bank a grant to help them operate under these difficult conditions. Richard Whitman, DEQ director, is a strong advocate of the grant, the latest in a series of DEQ contributions which prior to this grant added up to $235,000.
“Rescuing food that would go to waste has tremendous environmental benefits — and redirecting that food to feed hungry people is especially important right now,” Whitman said. “DEQ is not only supporting Oregon Food Bank with this grant, but also responding to Gov. Kate Brown’s call to reduce food waste and methane emissions from landfills in Oregon.”
Susannah Morgan, CEO of Oregon Food Bank, compares the COVID-19 pandemic to other rare combinations of circumstances which result in extreme events.
“We are experiencing what may be a ‘hundred-year flood’ of hunger — certainly the greatest food insecurity in at least a generation,” Morgan said. “The dramatic increase in need for food assistance requires new, creative solutions with longtime partners like the Department of Environmental Quality. This collaboration will help to ensure we all emerge stronger from this crisis — providing much-needed meals to hard-hit communities throughout the region.”
One way to see how the two organizations see their goals overlapping in this instance is to look at their mission statements:
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality protects human health and the environment by controlling air and water pollution, reducing the impacts of manufactured products and cleaning up contaminated properties. DEQ engages the public in decision-making and helps communities solve problems in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable.
At Oregon Food Bank, we believe that food and health are basic human rights for all. We know that hunger is not just an individual experience; it is also a community-wide symptom of barriers to employment, education, housing and health care. That’s why we work on two fronts in our mission to end hunger in Oregon: we build community connections to help people access nutritious, affordable food today, and we build community power to eliminate the root causes of hunger for good.
If you want to know more about Oregon Food Bank’s plans for Oregon to #EmergeStronger, visit http://oregonfoodbank.org/emergestronger. If you want to find a food bank near you in Oregon or Clark County, go to http://oregonfoodfinder.org/.
John M. Burt