October 8, 2013

Saying that children should not be hungry in our community, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 3 voted to create two new food pantries at Madison High School and Reynolds Middle School.

Commissioners unanimously approved spending $61,000 to create the SUN-based centers which will serve children in the school, as well as any families and individuals in the area. With historic levels of hunger in the community, the board voted said something must be done.

“You don’t have to turn on the radio or news to see the federal government is failing us on every level and it’s our children who are suffering,’’ Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said.

Kafoury said that on Nov. 1, all households who receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, will see their benefits reduced when federal stimulus dollars run out. That translates into 20 fewer meals per month, per household.

“Already we know nearly one in four children in Multnomah County experiences food insecurity. Commissioner Kafoury said. “This obviously means there is a crisis for those families.”

The good news, she said, is that the Oregon Food Bank has the capacity to immediately create new emergency food pantries where there is high need and limited access to food. The Food Bank has prioritized school-based pantries for this work and is contributing $5,000 in food and $5,000 in start-up assistance.

Providing food in pantries based in SUN schools is “economical, efficient and meets family where they’re at and serve don’t just serve families in the school, but all families in that area, said 

Peggy Samolinski, SUN Schools Division manager with Department of County Human Services.

“We already have eight pantries and they’re wildly successful,’’ Samolinski said.

Commissioner Diane McKeel supported the new food pantries, saying “the need is great.” Up to 80 percent of the Reynolds students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

“That just blows me away every time I hear that,’’ McKeel said. She said including a half-time position as part of the spending would help find longer-term solutions.”

Jon Stubenvoll, director of advocacy for the Oregon Food Bank, said the demand for emergency food continues at historic levels with the food bank distributing 40 percent more food than it did before the Great Recession.

“Even though economists tell us the recession is easing, job creation is slow, those in need of emergency food remain at high levels,’’ he said.

“What is most troubling is that children are disproportionately impacted, For example, children represent 20 percent of Multnomah County’s population, but they are 34 percent of those eating from food from the Oregon Food Bank network.”
Katy Lauderdale, manager of the SUN program at Madison High School, reminded commissioners of the students who benefit, including one high school senior she said could make a single pack of ramen last three meals.

Stubenvoll thanked the Board and county staff for their efforts.

“Oregon Food Bank is deeply grateful for the leadership role this county has historically played in providing access to nutritious food to county residents,” Stubenvoll said. “The SUN school pantry model has been wildly successful, it has been a wonderful partnership between the public sector and private sector, charitable non-profits … The model works.”