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Ore. Food Pantries Look to Create Safe Space for Immigrants

Food banks in Oregon want members of the immigrant and refugee community to feel safe in their pantries. (Oregon Food Bank)
Food banks in Oregon want members of the immigrant and refugee community to feel safe in their pantries. (Oregon Food Bank)
April 3, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Fear among immigrants in Oregon might be leaving some families hungry. Many food pantries across the state report a decline in visits by people who may be fearful of being deported.

Last weekend, a pantry manager at an Oregon Food Bank partner agency was detained at his home by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Francisco Rodriguez Dominguez, who is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, was later released after a public outcry.

Mariya Klimenko, hunger relief outreach coordinator with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization's hunger relief program, said raids like this have Oregon residents - regardless of legal status - afraid.

"This is something that is criminalizing and vilifying just the act of not having been born in the United States, dressing differently, having an accent,” Klimenko said.

Widely publicized ICE raids have ramped up in Oregon and across the country in recent weeks, including in so-called sanctuary cities, like Portland and Eugene. The Trump administration has said that stepping up enforcement is necessary to keep the country safe.

Jen Turner, regional network manager at Oregon Food Bank, said some partner organizations have seen a decrease in the numbers of people getting emergency food. Some have explained they don't want to share their personal information, even though it is kept confidential. But, she said other partners haven't seen a decline.

"Something that we're really thinking about is: What are the ways that those partners are cultivating that trust and sustaining that trust, even in this heightened state of fear? And how can we learn from those partners and try to build more of that throughout our network?” Turner said.

Turner said Dominguez's release after the public outcry is a example of the community's power.

"It showed us, I feel, how deeply our community cares about these members of our shared community, and how strongly they feel about their right to be here,” she said.

Klimenko, whose program works in Portland-area school pantries, said immigrants are at heightened risk of food insecurity. She said she encourages them to find the food relief they need, adding that pantries at local schools aren't advertised to the public.

"You have to resist in many different ways,” she said. "It's also important to have a space where people can come together and share their common experiences and support one another, and a school food pantry is one of the places to do that."

She said she encourages people not to give in to the current climate of fear.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR