For the second straight year, a friendly competition between Oregon and Washington got underway in June that will help alleviate some of the hunger problems persisting in the Pacific Northwest. A month long food and cash drive began with hopes that farmers, retailers, and a donating public can top last year’s totals as part of the “Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger” campaign. Once again, the two states are simultaneously working together, while also trying to top the other, in terms of who brings in the most donations.
“So many people talk about the incredible bounty of agriculture that we have in Oregon and Washington,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. “Many of us get to experience it during the summer more than any other time of the year. But we know from statistics that both states still have a very high population of hungry families. Summer is also a time to focus on how to get more of our nutritious food to those in our states who do suffer from hunger on a daily basis.”
ODA and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) are once again lending support to a determined team that includes the Oregon and Washington Dairy Products Commissions as well as Fred Meyer stores, which will help promote the event and collect donations. Other partners include Oregon Food Bank, Food Lifeline, and Second Harvest– food assistance organizations in the two states that will distribute the donations to needy families and individuals. ODA Director Coba and her Washington counterpart, Bud Hover, will compete for the “Director’s Trophy”, given to the state that generates the most food and cash donations. Last year, Hover and Washington were victorious.
“Oregon is the underdog,” says Coba. “Our population is smaller than Washington’s, so we have to just be better. I really think we can beat them this time. Director Hover is a former football player, I’m a former basketball player. So there is a lot of friendly competition between us. But ultimately for all of us and our farmers and ranchers, it’s about raising cash and food donations for the hungry in both states.”
Statistics show that an estimated 270,000 people in Oregon and Clark County, Washington eat meals from emergency food boxes in an average month throughout the year. That includes nearly 92,000 children. Oregon no longer holds the dubious distinction of being the hungriest state in the nation, but it remains one of the top states in terms of families and individuals with food needs.
As was the case last year, one of the key campaign messages is that hunger does not take a summer vacation.
“Summer is a critical time for families with kids,” says Coba. “During the school year, most kids from low income families can receive breakfast and lunch at school. In summer, that resource is not as available to families.”
Among the nutritious foods that are making their way to families in need are dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. After all, June is Dairy Month and it was dairy farmers in Oregon and Washington that came up with the idea of turning their annual celebration into something greater.
“With nearly half-a-million food insecure Oregonians, hunger is a problem that cannot go unanswered,” says Pete Kent, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Products Commission (ODPC). “Although longer term solutions are needed, we can at least in the short term help ensure that fresh, nutrient-rich foods are provided to those most in need. Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger is one effort to address that immediate concern.”
Agricultural groups are among those who have become heavily involved in hunger relief efforts by developing a strong relationship with food banks around the state. ODA Director Coba says the Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger initiative demonstrates the heart of Oregon and Washington producers.
“These people really care and wouldn’t be farmers and ranchers if they didn’t care,” she says. “They care about the land and water, they care about their livestock and crops, and they care about families in need. Our producers want to make sure people who are hungry in our states can have access to the wonderful food they produce. Stepping up in efforts like the June food drive is indicative of the kind of people they are.”
Last year’s campaign in Oregon raised nearly $3,600 and 6,500 pounds of food that was distributed by the Oregon Food Bank Network. The goal this year is to top those numbers. Efforts include public events in Portland, Medford, and Bend where Oregonians are invited to bring food or cash donations. All throughout June, donations can also be made at Fred Meyer stores in Oregon and Washington. Specifically, cash donations can be made at Fred Meyer checkout registers and online.
“We’re excited to partner once again with the Oregon and Washington dairy farmers in their fight to end childhood hunger here in the Northwest,” says Melinda Merrill, director of public affairs for Fred Meyer Stores. “Hunger reduction is an extremely important issue to our customers and employees and the Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger campaign is yet another great way to combat the ongoing problem.”
For every $10 donated to the drive, local food banks can distribute enough food to provide 35 meals. While donations of food are welcome and appreciated, cash allows more flexibility in getting specific nutritious foods to families in need.
Last year was a success, especially as the inaugural event laid a foundation of partnerships and awareness that is sure to help in 2014.
“Can we do better this year? I think so,” says Coba. “That’s what you strive for in year two of these kinds of efforts. We learned a lot last year. The partnership between dairy farmers in Oregon and Washington, Fred Meyer, and the two state departments of agriculture is outstanding. It’s fun to get out there and promote an activity that benefits a great cause. The need to help hungry families and individuals in our two states during the summer months has not gone away. I’m confident both states can do even more this year.”
For more information, contact Carissa Sauer (ODPC) at (503) 229-5033.