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Oregonians Urge Lawmakers to Respond to Hunger

Despite an improving economy, anti-hunger advocates say hunger is a "public health crisis" in Oregon. (Lindsay Trapnell/Oregon Food Bank)
Despite an improving economy, anti-hunger advocates say hunger is a "public health crisis" in Oregon. (Lindsay Trapnell/Oregon Food Bank)
April 11, 2019

SALEM, Ore. – Hunger-relief advocates are gathering in Salem today to urge lawmakers to root out hunger in Oregon.

Hundreds of folks from food banks across the state are expected to travel to the capital for Hunger Response Day. Phillip Kennedy-Wong, public policy advocate with Oregon Food Bank, says the issue of hunger often is overlooked, especially as the economy has improved since the recession.

However, his network still is distributing more food than it did during the recession. He says between 2007 and 2010, the network distributed more than 60 million pounds annually of food statewide, and now that number is up to roughly 95 million pounds.

"That is despite the fact we have low unemployment and the food-insecurity numbers have declined,” says Kennedy-Wong. “But it just tells us that there's still a segment of Oregon that was left behind. They never left the Great Recession. For them, the Great Recession still continues to this day."

Kennedy-Wong says nearly 600,000 Oregonians are food insecure, or unsure where their next meal is coming from. He believes decision makers in Salem should recognize that this is a public-health epidemic.

Audrey Smith, regional food bank manager with Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, is in Salem today and wants state lawmakers to invest in the "Double Up Food Bucks" program, which matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP dollars spent on fruits and vegetables at participating farmers' markets, up to 10 dollars.

She says the program has been successful at promoting healthy eating.

"Over 90% of the people that used that program reported that they're buying more fruits and vegetables because of the Double Up Food Bucks program," says Smith.

Kennedy-Wong says the Double Up Food Bucks program also could be used to support rural grocery stores, where communities suffer most from food insecurity and keeping an inventory of fresh produce can be tricky.

"You don't have quite the density of customers and the fact that produce has to travel to those venues,” says Kennedy-Wong. “Their shelf life is not as long. But if there is a market for that that we can help to create with their participation in SNAP Double Up Bucks program, then we want to do that."

House Bill 2837 and its Senate companion would invest $3 million in the program, which ran a successful pilot from 2015 to 2018, and allow it to be piloted in up to eight grocery stores in under-served communities.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR