Statesman Journal (Oregon), May 27, 2008: Eliminating hunger is up to all Oregonians

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Oregon may no longer be the nation’s “hungriest” state, according to Census data. But pressed by rising fuel and food costs, more families are asking local food banks for emergency boxes of food to tide them over for a few days.

These families don’t need a Hunger Awareness Week. But for everyone else, this week should prod people to learn at least one thing and do at least one thing to help eliminate this problem.

In the heart of this rich agricultural state, it simply is shameful that some of our neighbors and our children’s friends must skimp on food. Period.

Mid-Valley residents have always responded generously to such reminders with donations of food and cash. That has allowed Marion-Polk Food Share’s 73 partners to distribute nearly 61,000 food boxes and serve nearly 1 million meals per year.

But food boxes and meals at shelters, though important, are only stopgap solutions. What Oregon really needs is to fix the underlying problems that keep people from being able to afford adequate food, and that keep healthy food from getting to the people who need it.

People are hungry in Oregon for a complicated web of reasons. If they have low-wage jobs with no benefits, it’s hard to make ends meet. Housing costs here are high; child care is hard to find. If jobs are far from affordable housing, then transportation costs add up. If the car breaks down or an uninsured parent needs a prescription, the food budget may have to give.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force deserve credit for working on a five-year plan to change some of these root causes of hunger.

One success story: getting more eligible Oregonians signed up for food stamps. That brought millions more federal dollars into the state and made it possible for more children to attend school well fed and ready to learn.

Another victory came when the Legislature capped consumer loan rates at 36 percent, down from the 500 percent to 600 percent that some payday loan outfits charged. Now low-income people are less likely to get trapped in contracts that force them to pay interest instead of buying food for their children.

It would be great to get the energy of everyday Oregonians behind similar efforts. The governor has worked hard to keep hunger in the spotlight, even spending a week on a typical food stamp client’s budget of $3 per day. But he and hunger advocates can’t do this alone.

Consider helping at a summer food meal site. Drive an elderly neighbor to the farmer’s market. Tip when you eat out to help low-wage servers. Write letters to legislators who are considering anti-poverty programs.

And that bag of groceries for the local food bank? It’s always welcome.

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