By George Plaven East Oregonian
That’s a single-year record and about 1.5 million pounds more than the organization managed in 2014, but Executive Director John Burt said they can still do more.
“There’s a big hunger issue in this state,” Burt said. “We need people to get involved.”
A crowd of 85 people gathered Saturday evening at the SAGE Center in Boardman to celebrate Farmers Ending Hunger, including Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan. The event also doubled as an unveiling for the new Farmers Ending Hunger exhibit at the SAGE Center — Boardman’s visitor’s center and regional agricultural museum.
Fred Ziari, president and CEO of IRZ Consulting in Hermiston, founded the nonprofit Farmers Ending Hunger in 2004 after learning Oregon was, at the time, the nation’s hungriest state.
Today, one in five Oregonians faces food insecurity. Ziari said he hopes the museum display will continue to galvanize Eastern Oregon farmers to help feed their neighbors.
“Just knowing this was happening in our own state was a shock to me,” Ziari said. “This display will educate permanently for hundreds of thousands of people coming through here.”
Farmers Ending Hunger represents a collaborative effort between more than 100 farmers, food processors and the Oregon Food Bank to deliver much-needed meals to families. On average, about 284,000 residents rely on emergency food boxes for meals. Of those, 34 percent are children.
Ziari said the organization was born not out of charity, but a labor of love. He recognized Amstad Produce for contributing 30 tons of potatoes per month; Hale Farms for contributing 25 tons of onions per month; and Threemile Canyon Farms for contributing 25-30 beef cows per month.
Enough wheat has also been donated for roughly 5 million pancakes, Ziari said. Much of that food ends up on the west side of the state, and Portland Mayor Hales said he wanted to thank those growers in person for their generosity.
Seventeen percent of Multnomah County’s population is food insecure, Hales said, or about 116,000 people.
“You are right on the forefront of an issue that profoundly affects the people I work for,” Hales said. “I so value the substance and the spirit of what you’re doing.”
Morgan, who has served as CEO of the Oregon Food Bank since 2012, emphasized hunger remains a big challenge in the state. However, the problem isn’t that there’s not enough food, she said, but a matter of gathering and distributing donations to the hungry.
The Oregon Food Bank stands ready to partner with Farmers Ending Hunger into the future, Morgan said.
“We will not rest until we’ve eliminated hunger,” she said.
Saturday’s event ended with a $10,000 donation to Farmers Ending Hunger from Northwest Farm Credit Services. Non-farmers can also donate the organization’s “Adopt an Acre” program.
Kenzie Hansell, a fourth-generation farmer with Hansell Farms, said that with everybody doing their part, they can continue to build on their success.
“As farmers, we have a responsibility to be stewards of the land,” Hansell said. “As humans, we have a responsibility to take care of one another.”
To learn more about Farmers Ending Hunger or to make a donation, visitwww.farmersendinghunger.com.
Contact George Plaven at [email protected] or 541-966-0825.