Serving more than 860,000 people each year prior to COVID-19, Oregon Food Bank’s network of 1,400 pantries and meal sites are driven by donations of fresh produce, protein, dairy and other pantry staples. In preparing this food for distribution, volunteers devote thousands of hours to sorting and packaging bulk donations from across the Northwest.
Yet the pandemic has added a host of new challenges to food distribution systems here in Oregon and across the country — disrupting industry and volunteer-led operations alike. As part of its effort to ensure nutritious, healthy food reaches communities that need it most, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality recently awarded Oregon Food Bank a $140,000 grant. These funds will be used through May 2021, to boost hunger relief efforts at a time of unprecedented demand while keeping additional food waste out of landfills. The pandemic has affected supply chains for produce, lowering demand from restaurants and other customers, so growers and processors are left with excess food.
“Rescuing food that would go to waste has tremendous environmental benefits — and redirecting that food to feed hungry people is especially important right now,” said DEQ Director Richard Whitman. “DEQ is not only supporting Oregon Food Bank with this grant, but also responding to Gov. Kate Brown’s call to reduce food waste and methane emissions from landfills in Oregon.”
DEQ’s grant will help pay growers to re-package and transport more than 2 million pounds of fresh produce, including potatoes, apples and oranges, from growers and processors in Oregon, Washington and California. That equates to nearly 1.7 million meals for people experiencing food insecurity, according to Feeding America. Without this additional support for transit and processing, much of the food would have likely been composted or thrown away. The grant is the latest in a series of DEQ initiatives that have already provided more than $235,000 toward Oregon Food Bank’s transportation and distribution efforts.
“We are experiencing what may be a ‘hundred-year flood’ of hunger — certainly the greatest food insecurity in at least a generation,” shared Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan. “The dramatic increase in need for food assistance requires new, creative solutions with longtime partners like the Department of Environmental Quality. This collaboration will help to ensure we all emerge stronger from this crisis — providing much-needed meals to hard-hit communities throughout the region.”
Oregon Food Bank is the coordinating agency for a statewide network of 21 regional food banks and more than 1,400 food assistance sites providing food to people experiencing hunger throughout Oregon and Clark County in Washington.
“Oregon Food Bank has been an incredible partner over the past several years, and we’re excited to be able to award them this grant during an unprecedented time,” Elaine Blatt, senior policy and program analyst at DEQ. “DEQ is focused on reducing wasted food to protect human and environmental health. We rely on the knowledge, compassion and experience of organizations such as Oregon Food Bank to serve the critical social need of redistributing good food that would otherwise be wasted.”
To learn more about Oregon Food Bank’s efforts to #EmergeStronger go to http://oregonfoodbank.org/emergestronger. To find a food bank near you in Oregon go to http://oregonfoodfinder.org/.
–Dylan Darling, DEQ public affairs specialist