OREGON FOOD BANK
TABLE OF CONTENTS introduction .................................................................................................................................. 1 the economy and the job market ........................................................ 3 food and nutrition ......................................................................................................... 7 community food security ................................................................................... 9 meeting basic needs ............................................................................................................... 13 government and politics ....................................................................................... 15 you can help ...................................................................................................................................... 19
Introduction What is meal time like at your house? For many of us it’s a time of abundance and of sharing with family and friends. Now imagine that you’re unemployed and looking for work, or working at a low-paying job without benefits. Every day is a struggle to keep the bills paid and to put food on the table for your family. For many of our neighbors, an average of 240,000 people each month, meals are prepared with food from emergency food boxes. Rather than having abundance to share, meal times mean stretching a limited budget as far as possible and sometimes doing without. This report shares the struggles that many emergency food recipients face and policies you can support to make a difference in their lives. Oregon Food Bank began the Voices project 12 years ago to better understand the role of hunger and poverty in people’s lives. Since then, OFB staff members have conducted an annual series of focus groups with low-income clients through OFB’s network of hunger-relief agencies. Listening to the voices of our fellow Oregonians helps us effectively advocate for policies and programs to address the root causes of hunger. In the fall of 2009, Oregon Food Bank staff met with more than 50 people from six communities – Beaverton, The Dalles, Maupin, Gresham, Beaver and Portland. Discussions focused on the economy, food and nutrition, community food security, meeting basic needs and our government.
“I’m glad to live in Oregon where you can’t pump your own gas because I pump it for you. Even though I only make minimum wage, it’s still something” – Jeff, THE DALLES
The economy and the job market re·ces·sion: (noun) a significant decline in economic activity, visible in industrial production, employment, real income and retail trade. Over the past three decades, the wealthiest one percent of Oregon households saw their incomes increase 210 percent. During the same time, the poorest fifth of Oregon households saw a 17 percent decline in income. In addition to the widening income gap, unemployment topped 12 percent in 2009, and Oregon Food Bank received more requests for emergency food than ever before. Focus group participants voiced frustration at the lack of opportunity for employment. Many are looking for work and willing to do whatever it takes, but jobs are increasingly difficult to find. Many who are working face low incomes and no benefits.
“Four years ago I was making $150,000 to $180,000 a year. I have four kids, one was in college and one was about to go to college. We had a great house, nice cars, the life everyone was hoping for. Then my company shut down. I missed a few house payments. Last August, we lost our house and my car. I never thought that at the age of 54 I would have to move into my mother-in-law’s home.” – Bill, Beaverton
“Having a job is different than having work. If you have a job you can get insurance and a regular 40 hours a week. Work means chopping down blackberries to get $20 so you can buy some food. Now you can’t even get work.” – Jon, Beaver
“It isn’t because of lack of knowledge that I’m poor or lack of skills. There is no hiring.” – Linda, Gresham
looking for work Andrea, who lives in Gresham, had a job, but no health insurance. Then she was diagnosed with cancer. Now she gets Social Security disability, which she puts toward rent, medications and food. She tried going back to work but couldn’t get a job because of her illness. She struggles to afford medications, utilities and a phone. She’d like to raise a family someday, but for now, she can’t even support herself. Bill lives in Beaverton. He’s looking hard for work, going to job interviews and applying for new positions every day. He shared his struggles to find work in a tough economy. “I visit different Web sites and make phone calls,” he says. “Once in awhile you hear, ‘Yes, we’d like to have you come in for an interview.’ And you get all excited. But then you find out it’s at the Sheridan by the airport. You walk in with your suit and tie, feeling proud, into an entire convention center filled with people all looking for that same job - one position. They give you a card with a number on it. 1-15 come up. 16-30 come up. You have 30 seconds to introduce yourself. Then you wait and wait. You make phone calls and all you get is an answering machine. It’s very disheartening. I don’t have a master’s degree, but I went to college. I’ve run some pretty good companies, managed 35 to 40 people and made good money. Now I go out there and you see a gentleman with a Ph.D looking for the same starter job that I’m after. And all of the young college grads are after those jobs too. What do you do? Well, you have to continue to try or else you can lose your unemployment benefits.” 5
“It’s nice to have food that’s fresh and locally grown. But if you’re on a limited budget, you can’t afford it.” – Linda, GRESHAM
food and Nutrition nu·tri·tion: (noun) the act or process of nourishing or being nourished. The way in which a living organism uses food for growth, energy and healing.
“If you’re on food stamps, it’s hard to go to the store and get what you know is healthy for your family and still have enough food to last you through the month. So you end up at the food pantry to fill the gap.” – Andreua, The Dalles
“Cost or quality. That’s the choice you always have to make at the store. When there are kids involved, you want to set a good example with the food you buy.” – Jon, Portland
Focus group participants shared that there’s often a difference between the healthy foods they’d like to eat and the foods they can afford to buy. Severely limited budgets and lack of access to stores force focus group participants to rely on food pantries. Food pantries sometimes have a limited ability to provide varied and nutritious food because they rely on food donations.
“I think it’s sad when you start using the price of something to control what you buy. You have to leave out things that you know are good for you. Then you end up paying for a prescription to put the potassium back in your diet, which you could have had in the first place with bananas and sweet potatoes.” – Nadine, Portland
“It would be great to have a garden. We have a balcony at our apartment. Herbs grow pretty well. I just want a small area where I can grow things I really want.” – Don, GRESHAM
Community food security com·mu·ni·ty food se·cu·ri·ty: (noun) a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice. During the focus groups, we saw inspiring examples of hunger-relief programs that encourage self-sufficiency, equity and community food security. Through gardening and gleaning programs, clients increase their access to healthy fruits and vegetables and are active participants in helping themselves and others. Tualatin Valley Gleaners in Beaverton is a great example. The program is run by its members, who take an active role in collecting food from fields, orchards, grocery stores and local farmers markets. That food is then shared among the group’s members at a weekly distribution. SnowCap Community Charities in Gresham is another example. In addition to providing emergency food, SnowCap runs a community garden where clients have access to plots and learn to grow their own food. Farmers markets also strengthen the community food system and bring people together. While many participants raved about the abundant produce, some pointed out that the price was out of their reach.
“They have a free master gardening program here at SnowCap. It lasted six or eight weeks. They taught us everything from planning a garden, to planting, to growing food on patios in small containers. Gardening is my serenity. And it’s nice to have something to give back.” – Linda, Gresham
“It’s patriotic to be able to buy food from a neighborhood farm at a farmers market. But let the price be reasonable! Why does it cost more than if you are buying food from Peru? I know that isn’t the way it works.” – Melvin, Portland
“When I come to the gleaners, I feel as though I am part of a club. I’m helping people get the food they need. Everyone I hand food to is a member of the same club. I leave here feeling good.” – Rhonda, Beaverton
growing food security Before Amber got a gardening plot at SnowCAP, a local OFB Network hunger-relief agency, she struggled to feed her growing boys the nutritious food they need. Now, she brings home fresh green beans, carrots and lettuce on a regular basis. Her sons are also learning to work in the garden and love the taste of vegetables. Linda in Gresham discovered a neighbor down the street with a tree full of ripe cherries. After harvesting her own garden zucchinis and tomatoes, she walked over to her neighbor’s house for the first time to trade some of her veggies for some cherries. “It is nice to have something to give back,” she said. “If you have a garden, you probably always have excess.”
“We are in a quandary right now. If it weren’t for Medicare and the Oregon Health Plan I wouldn’t have anything. I worked many years, paid my taxes, paid my Social Security, paid my union dues. I worked my hind end off. Then I got in an accident. Now I don’t own my home. I rent rooms.” - Tracy, GRESHAM
Meeting basic needs ba·sic needs: (noun) fundamental requirements that serve as the foundation for survival, including food, water, shelter, clothing and health care. The difficult economy made last year tough for many Oregonians, but our low-income neighbors were hardest hit. Many struggle to afford rent, bills and food — basic necessities for survival — and rely on safety-net programs like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and emergency food to help them get by.
“As a single parent, I’ve found that you try to pay the monsters at the door. You pay the rent, you pay the car insurance. You pay all the other hands and then you pay the fridge. The fridge is always the last thing to be paid.” – Rhonda, Beaverton
“How do you prioritize your household budget? You don’t. You just pay what you can. You try to keep the water and electricity on.” – Becky, Beaver
“You’re even more desperate when you have kids.” – Tammy, Beaver
“A lot of people are falling through the cracks right now.” – Jon, Beaver
“There’s an overall feeling of powerlessness against the government. I’ve felt that way, but I just started reading more and investigating more. I’m trying to learn about how it works.” – Andreua, THE DALLES
Government and politics de·moc·ra·cy: (noun) a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections. Focus group participants expressed feelings of being underrepresented by government leaders and disconnected from the democratic process. As a result, many have lost faith in their power to influence change. Andreua from The Dalles put it this way, “I think a lot of people feel that they don’t have the power to change things.”
“Our leaders are not experiencing what the people on the bottom are feeling. And they won’t understand until they come here to hand out food, without a camera man, and see the people lined up for help with a desperate look in their eyes.” – Jessica, Beaverton
“I feel like it doesn’t matter if you vote or not.” – Stacy, Beaver
“Some of us who grew up poor have talked to legislators – but it seems like they are the rare case. Most poor people are too busy taking care of their everyday needs. They can’t afford to pay attention to everything that goes on in the government.” – Heather, Beaverton
“We just get kicked to the curb, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s always going to be that way.” – Robert, Beaver
George, THE DALLES
civic engagement “I do vote,” says George, a Vietnam veteran. “It doesn’t seem to do any good, but I vote.” Since returning from war, George has experienced rejection from community members, isolation, homelessness and unemployment. After years of looking, he was finally able to find a job. “You need a job, an income,” he says. “Finding work was what allowed me to stop living in a tent.” Jessica, age 21, has been an active participant in advocacy activities for a number of years. She has been to Salem to speak with legislators about hunger in her community as part of the Oregon Food Bank Network’s advocacy efforts. Her role as a public citizen took a new level when she voted in her first presidential election in 2008. She remembers the experience vividly, “I dropped off my ballot, and on my way home I heard them announcing the president on the radio.” She remembers calling her mom and saying, “They’re already announcing the president, but they haven’t even counted my vote yet.” Looking back, she reflects, “It feels like my voice isn’t being heard. They don’t care about my story because they don’t have to live it.” 17
“I had a thriving home business that is now out of business. That affected me. It affected me more than just financially.” – Sherry, GRESHAM
you can help This yearâ€™s Voices project took place during a major recession that impacted the financial security of many Oregonians. In the focus groups, Oregon Food Bank staff heard from people who felt despair and a lack of hope for the future. Yet after the two-hour discussions, participants learned that they shared common ground with others in the room, that they could learn from others in similar situations and that they had many important ideas to share. Although times are difficult for far too many, there is much that can be done to make a difference in the lives of low-income Oregonians. You can help. Join us in advocating for public policy solutions that address the root causes of hunger.
Support policies that improve access to nutritious foods We heard from many focus group participants that they need access to more nutritious foods. Hunger and food insecurity rates are rising. Paradoxically, obesity and diet-related diseases are also increasing at unprecedented rates. We ask policy makers to promote and individuals to support policies that promote a sustainable and equitable food system through: • home, community and school garden initiatives, • connecting consumers with healthy food, • • • •
purchasing local food for schools and institutions, investments in the food system infrastructure, building healthy food systems, promotion of education about food and nutrition. 21
Support policies and investments for basic-need programs Focus group participants talked about many safety-net programs they rely on to make ends meet. These programs ensure that people without income to pay for basic needs stay housed, essential nutrition needs are met, and that people have access to health care services. We ask policy makers to invest in programs including: • Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP (food stamps); Women, Infants and Children (WIC); school meals for children; after-school and summer meal programs, • Health care for children and adults, • Affordable housing, • Oregon’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
“You need to work three part-time jobs just to make ends meet.” – Barb, MAUPIN
Support community building and economic development Tap into the wisdom that we heard from the participants of these focus groups. Ensure that their voices are heard in decisions made about community building and economic development. Focus group participants assured us that Oregonians are looking for ways to contribute to their communities, but many struggle to contribute economically because of unemployment or low incomes. We must ask individuals, employers and policy makers to think about how to build an equitable future and develop an infrastructure of employment that includes family-wage jobs and opportunities for everyone.
credits A special thank you to the individuals and agencies that assisted with the 2009 Voices focus groups: Elm Court â€“ Loaves and Fishes, Tualatin Valley Gleaners, Nestucca Pass it On Ministries, SnowCap Community Charities, St. Vincent de Paul in The Dalles and the city of Maupin. And most of all, thank you to each one of our focus group participants.
2009 Voices Project Coordinator and contributing writer: Tammy VanderWoude Editor and author: Amber Stinson Designer: Jamie Meyer Photographer: Brian Lee Photography