Editor’s note: Today, we welcome Elleanor Chin to the ranks of BlueOregon’s regular contributors. She’s an attorney and activist. Read her bio, and see the links to her earlier guest columns. Welcome, Elleanor!
Public school in Oregon is out for the summer. No more homework, no more worksheets and no more free and reduced price school lunches. Over a quarter million Oregon public school students(approximately half of all students) are eligible for free and reduced price lunches. For many students, this means they do not get enough to eat in the summer. Federal subsidies for feeding hungry children and families include not only free lunch, but free breakfast and backpack programs that provide children with food to take home on weekends and school breaks.
Oregon is a state where both food culture and agriculture play a significant role, but we still have a significant population living in poverty, including 23 percent of children. Despite living in one of the most technologically advanced and wealthy countries in the world, poverty in the United States means food insecurity – the basic inability for all people in a household to have enough food to live an active, healthy life. This includes children living in households with one or more parent working.
Food drives get considerable publicity in the winter months, particularly during the holiday giving season, however, there is still a substantial need in the summer months – as the more fortunate are planting their gardens and going to farmer’s markets. Oregon hunger relief programs have multiple summer feeding sites. In the Portland area that includes school affiliated sites and the Rockwoodbranch of the Multnomah County Public Library.
There are many opportunities to support anti-hunger programs in the summer, including volunteering at the Oregon Food Bank learning gardens, and supporting food banks and other programs by Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. In Portland New Seasons Market is partnering with hunger relief organizations throughout June and July, including Sisters of the Road, which has a work and barter focused program.
However, hunger relief is still not hunger prevention. Consider also the underlying causes of hunger: inadequate wages, unstable employment and high costs of living. Hunger is a secondary effect of poverty and as a society we can make choices at the local, state and national level that reduce child and family poverty. These include mandating wages that do not require a family to choose between eating, rent and transportation. In some parts of the country that can be as high as $22.00 an hour, but it makes an immediate and significant difference. Parents need to not only make living wages, but to be able to keep them, meaning having access to affordable childcare and having the ability to take a paid sick day to care for a child. Creating a society in which working families do not require food assistance should be a basic priority.