Portland, Oregon is famous for its foodie culture. We're hipsters at the forefront of the avocado craze; even if we didn't invent the donut we've perfected it; and there are 737 coffee shops in the city limits. I love RIP city. But underneath the privileged facade of Portlandia is a harsh reality of institutionalized racism and serious food insecurity. Oregon Food Bank is attempting to tackle those deeply rooted issues, by simply making sure every Oregonian has food on their plate.

"End Hunger... and Its Root Causes"

I recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with Oregon Food Bank's (OFB) Fundraising Coordinator Kyle Hummel about OFB's goals for Oregon. We discussed how those words "and its root causes" at the end of OFB's mission statement revolutionize the way the nonprofit talks about hunger. And it needs a revolutionary approach because it is facing one of the hungriest states in the union, all by itself. "We're here to work ourselves out of a job," he says. That happens when organizations don't just attend to momentary hunger, but systematic inequalities that create food insecurity for people across the nation. Feeding hungry people now is a band-aid, but ensuring food equity for the future is the solution.

OFB is a unique organization because it is singularly tasked with feeding the entire state with it's 4.1 million residents (by comparison, neighboring Washington has three food banks to serve their 7.4 million residents). But Hummel says this seeming logistical nightmare is one of the organization's greatest strengths, "having a statewide network gives us [the opportunity to] touch the entire state. We serve everybody. If you need food you know there's someone in your backyard." This means that in every corner of the state people are getting the same service, the same attention, and the same access. The OFB doesn't spend any time competing with other food banks for scarce resources, instead it can wholly focus on serving the residents of Oregon who live with food insecurity. "Oregon's [statewide network] has organically grown because we're a small population state. It gives us a big combined voice that allows us to yell [for change]. The OFB is tied with the New York City for the number of food lobbyists on staff. We're not just talking about hunger, but the forgotten masses of our systems."

The OFB "intentionally tries and put our dollars where our mouths are" when it talks about systematic inequality in Oregon. The most pervasive and untouched problem in the state is the systematic racism rooted in a history of exclusion and violence, particularly for African Americans. In an attempt to undo some institutional barriers to economically successful lives for people of color in the state OFB has adopted a number of programs to address food inequality that specifically affects the underserved portions of the state. This includes:

- Screen and Intervene, where OFB staff members "help doctors identify populations who are underserved and maybe there are food resources that can repair medical issues."

- A partnership with Oregon Intertribal Breastfeeding Coalition which helps mothers on reservations grow foods and herbs that can aid in breastfeeding and support healthy lifestyles.

- "Free food markets in food deserts and at migrant work camps" (strict rules for food partners that they cannot ask for ID from receiving food). 

- A partnership with Mudbone Grown, a social enterprise that works to give aspiring African American farmers a space to become apprentices and eventually farmers in a market that is controlled by white farmers who can afford the high start-up costs of owning a small farm.

So what?

What can you as a college student who doesn't have a lot of sway over how your dining hall meals are prepared or who doesn't have the transportation to get to a food bank do? Hummel says that you can do a lot. It's as simple as Donate. Volunteer. Advocate.

"We as a generation get to decide what change we want to impart... if someone has a good idea there's nothing we can't do together. There's no way you can't help. You want to see a better world? Get involved. You influence your peers more than anybody else. The fact that we waste 40% of our food, you can do something about that." 

So take classes that set your soul on fire. Find something that makes your heart ache and do something about it. Do not put things off just because you're in school and will deal with it later. It must be dealt with now, and it can. Food insecurity should not be a problem in our land of plenty, and our job as young scholars and leaders and world changers is to learn why that is the case, and how to right these wrongs. 

And finally, the million dollar question for all college students:

How Can Someone Get a Job Working in Food Injustice or Other Nonprofit Work?

"Start volunteering. Wherever you want to work start donating time. Try things on the see what works. Be seen, build a volunteer community, it's career development! If you want to be at a nonprofit as a career choice you have to volunteer with us. Non profits have a lot of facets and need a lot of skill sets, but it's very competitive. Take on the challenge. Be intentional about how you're going to get where you want to go."

Thanks to Kyle Hummel for taking the time to chat with me and to the Oregon Food Bank for all the work they do. Sign up to volunteer here.