Touring the Oregon Food Bank in Portland, one of the first things that stands out is the wealth of volunteers working feverishly throughout the facility. My guide for the day, Food Resource Developer Sharon McFadden, tells me that 40,000 people volunteer at Oregon Food Bank in a single year. As we walk through the space, I see a group of 30 volunteers sorting soup donated by Pacific Foods. Unlike the recognizable Pacific Soup cartons I’m used to seeing at the grocery store, these are plain white. Sharon explains the packing is intentionally unmarked because soup in those white boxes is custom blended by Pacific and made from ingredients donated to the food bank and excess ingredients at Pacific.
Pacific Foods is just one example of the creative partnerships the food bank holds across the state.
“We work across the entire food system,” Sharon explains. “From growers and ranchers, to food manufacturers, shipping and cold storage companies.”
And they have to be innovative given the sheer scale of their work. The Oregon Food Bank Network, composed of 21 regional food banks and more than 1,200 partners and programs, spans the entire state, plus Clark County, Washington. All total, 100 million pounds of food moves through the Network annually, with nearly half of that distributed from Oregon Food Bank’s headquarters and warehouse in NE Portland.
Oregon Food Bank serves individuals and families from all backgrounds and circumstances. As its services expand, the stigma some associate with people who depend upon this vital resource is starting to diminish. In addition to being a resource for staple food items and fresh produce and meats, the food bank also serves as a resource for nutritional education, including gardening and cooking classes.
“Our work has evolved to meet the growing needs of a diverse society,” McFadden added. “We understand that systemic inequities that perpetuate poverty are root causes of hunger, and we’re leaning into that work as we strive to end hunger in Oregon. Strong partnerships across the state are key to realizing this vision.”
The kind of work we are able to do with the Food Bank is a great opportunity for our team to use its expertise to give back to the community in a meaningful way.
One such long-standing partner is Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Oregon Food Bank recently reached out to the college’s experiment station — the Food Innovation Center in Portland — for ideas on how to use ongoing donations of fruits and vegetable purees received from local businesses. The Food Innovation Center works with growers and entrepreneurs to create unique and marketable food products that create economic and community opportunities for the entire state. It’s just one example of how creative partnership can ultimately benefit the 260,000 people who receive food from a pantry each month.
“The kind of work we are able to do with the Food Bank is a great opportunity for our team to use its expertise to give back to the community in a meaningful way,” said David Stone, Director of the FIC. “It is part of our mission to apply the vital research we do to immediate needs such as this, and it is rewarding to see the work we do make an impact.”
In addition to partnerships with the Food Innovation Center, Oregon Food Bank also works with the OSU’s small farms and Master Gardeners programs to educate families and individuals about growing their own food and nutritious ways to prepare it.
“Community partnerships are at the core of this work,” Sharon said. “We’ve seen firsthand the positive and lasting impacts from partnerships like the one we have with Oregon State University — and we’re so grateful for all the organizations, big and small, who are coming together and collaborating for hunger relief.”
Sharon leaves me with a few more examples of unique and impactful partnerships: like the donated cardboard craft beer boxes that are the perfect size for transporting dry foods across the state; and wheat growers in eastern Oregon who grow and donate wheat, which is turned into baking mix thanks to a partnership between Farmers Ending Hunger, Grain Craft and Continental Mills.
Creatively helping more people have access to healthful foods so that they can feed their families is a challenging job, and one that Oregon Food Bank has been leading since 1998. With our shared values of improving food access and resilience, and helping connect more food growers to consumers, the partnership between Oregon State University and Oregon Food Bank is remarkable — serving the mission of both organizations, and making a real and tangible difference in the lives of Oregonians facing hunger.