By Eric Tegethoff
PORTLAND, Ore. – The new coronavirus outbreak is devastating the economy and leading to surges in hungry people. Oregon Food Bank is stepping up to meet the challenge and believes we can emerge stronger from this crisis.
The food-distribution network says its partners around the state have seen 20% to 60% spikes in demand for hunger relief over the last few weeks. Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan says it’s the biggest crisis she’s seen in her 24 years working in food banking.
But she adds that meals still are flowing to 1,300 assistance sites distributing food across Oregon and southwest Washington each week.
“I have heard of exactly one, in this eight-week period, that ran out of food before they got to the end of the line,” says Morgan. “So, I’m incredibly proud of our network and the tens of thousands of people who are making this happen.”
Donations for Oregon Food Bank’s “#EmergeStronger Community Challenge” is allowing the network to deploy more than $4.1 million to get their emergency response plan running, according to a report from the organization.
Some communities have a harder time getting assistance. Oregon Food Bank is committing $300,000 to reaching immigrant communities, because people who are undocumented don’t qualify for SNAP, or food stamps.
Morgan notes that even folks who have gained legal status can’t get assistance for five years. She says it’s especially important to support immigrant Oregonians now because many are in front-line jobs, working in meat plants, health care or as farmworkers.
“Our immigrant communities are keeping us fed and healthy during this pandemic,” says Morgan. “And so I feel like we collectively have a responsibility to wrap our arms around every one of our neighbors.”
Morgan says this crisis could provide an opportunity to better support folks on the other side of the pandemic.
“The food-assistance network is the last defense against hunger, not the first,” says Morgan. “The first defense should be a good offense, right? Living-wage jobs, access to health care, affordable housing, good education.”
Along with donations, Oregon Food Bank has secured $8 million from the state to supplement food supplies until July, when the organization anticipates federal aid will arrive.Disclosure: Oregon Food Bank contributes to our fund for reporting on Hunger/Food/Nutrition. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff is an Oregon reporter for Public News Service.
This article was published on May 8 at Public New Service.