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It's Oregon vs. Washington in the fight against hunger
5/29/2013

Friendly competition, organized by dairy commissions in both states, set for June

The issue of hunger in the Pacific Northwest is not going away, but neither are those who can help do something about it, including farmers, retailers, and a donating public in both Oregon and Washington. To help celebrate June as dairy month, a partnership that began with dairy producers has been established to raise $100,000 and 100,000 pounds of food before July. As an incentive, the states of Oregon and Washington are competing to see who brings in the most donations.

“Anything we can do to raise the profile of the hunger issue and also raise the profile of all the great things agriculture is doing to help alleviate hunger in the Pacific Northwest is a worthwhile effort,” says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Oregon’s 37,000 family farms grow an abundance of nutritious food. This food drive will help channel some of our state’s bounty toward local families experiencing hunger during the summer months.”

The month-long drive, referred to as “Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger,”started as an idea of the Oregon and Washington Dairy Products Commissions but quickly picked up some enthusiastic partners. Fred Meyer stores are generously promoting the event and collecting donations at 110 locations in the two states. ODA and its counterpart, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, are lending support by wagering a contest between the two states– complete with a verbal challenge between ODA Director Coba and WSDA Director Bud Hover– and the winner takes home a bonafide victory trophy to keep for the next year. The plan is to make this food drive and two-state contest an annual affair. The final partners are the food assistance organizations in both states that will distribute the donations–Oregon Food Bank, Food Lifeline, and Second Harvest.

“Northwest dairy farmers are committed to reducing hunger by raising awareness of the problem and increasing access to nutrient-rich foods, including dairy,” says Pete Kent, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Products Commission (ODPC).

Everything kicks off next week with events scheduled for Monday, June 3 at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer Store in Portland, and Wednesday, June 5, at the Ballard Fred Meyer in Seattle. The two state directors of agriculture will be on hand in their respective states to launch the drive.

“Even though it’s a friendly competition, I would like to beat the State of Washington,” says Coba. “We are the underdogs simply because we don’t have as big of a population as Washington. So all of you Oregonians out there, we really need you to come forward and make a donation.”

Coba’s counterpart is confident that his state will emerge victorious although he hopes for a strong showing from both contestants.

One of the central themes of the campaign is that hunger does not take a summer vacation. In an average month, an estimated 270,000 people in Oregon and Clark County, Washington ate meals from emergency food boxes during the past year. Of those, almost 92,000 were children. The Oregon Food Bank network says it has seen a 9 percent increase in food boxes as long-term unemployment and high cost of food, fuel, and housing forced more people into poverty. Similar statistics are tied to Washington.

“The issue of hunger is very real in our state,” says Coba. “We have been focusing on the problem for about the past decade, ever since Oregon was identified in the early 2000s as being the hungriest state in the nation. Governor Kulongoski, at the time, challenged Oregonians to turn that statistic around. A number of groups, including agricultural organizations, became very involved in the hunger relief effort with a strong relationship developing between Oregon agriculture and food banks around the state. Even though Oregon is no longer number one in being the hungriest state, we still have many families in need and we remain committed to doing all we can to help Oregon’s hungry citizens.”

Oregon farmers and ranchers continue putting food on the plate for many of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, even as the need for hunger assistance has reached unprecedented levels in recent years. Donations from such organizations as Farmers Ending Hunger have resulted in millions of pounds of food have found their way into a hungry home.

“One thing has become very clear since our organization got started back in 2006,” says John Burt, executive director of Farmers Ending Hunger. “When presented with a challenge and an issue like the rising tide of hunger in Oregon, our farmers, ranchers, and food processors always step up.”

The momentum created by the dairy commissions in both Oregon and Washington has spread to other commodity groups that hope to have a presence during the month-long food drive. Help from Fred Meyer has given the event a tremendous boost. Collection bins will be in place in stores and cash donations can be made at Fred Meyer checkout registers. As it is a statewide drive, special donation events will be held on June 22 at Fred Meyer stores in Medford and Bend.

Donations of non-perishable food will also be accepted at the Dairy Farmers of Oregon Milk Carton Boat Race on June 9 at Westmoreland Park in Portland. Online donations can be made as well.

No matter which state raises the most food and monetary donations, everyone will come out a winner if residents of Oregon and Washington who are able to give will answer the challenge.

“Oregonians have always stepped up to the plate and I imagine the same is true in Washington,” says Coba. “We are good at helping our own. Once we see a venue for giving, we respond.”

Hopefully, June’s efforts will bring about a better rest of the summer for those dealing with hunger.

For more information, contact Carissa Sauer (ODPC) at (503) 229-5033.


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