Here in the developed world, you would think that everybody would have access to food, even the very poor. It's true, there are free meal programs, emergency pantries, food stamps, and more. I've heard people say that in Portland, nobody has to go hungry. But they still do.
The Oregon Food Bank buys foods in bulk and sells it to various hunger-relief charities. Yes, they sell it. They recently started offering all the fresh produce for free, but everything else comes at a price. So the charities have to be funded, and with limits on funding, they have to set up guidelines regarding who is allowed to receive food, and limits as to how often those recipients can be helped.
OFB's free produce is an excellent improvement. Dubbed Free Alliance, the program partners with sellers for more donated fresh food, allowing the food bank to pass it on at no charge, in order to increase nutrition of the food being given to people in need. Because hunger itself really isn't the biggest problem -- it's malnutrition.
There's always bread. I've driven downtown and offered leftover bakery items to people on the streets. Sweets are a big hit, as their brief shelf life makes them harder to distribute. But bread, bagels, and rolls are everywhere, and street folks often say thanks but no thanks to more bread, especially hard breads that aggravate already-under-cared-for dental problems. (Why is it that we can provide free medical care, but no dental services?!)
Man cannot live by bread alone, the bible tells us. It's literally true, regardless of religious meaning. Nature requires a variety of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources to build healthy bodies, and bread is mostly just extra calories. The calories help, especially for people who don't have access to anything else. But consuming calories isn't the same as being nourished.
That free produce that OFB is offering? Yeah, that only goes to partner agencies. If you want food from OFB, you have to be a 501c3, have adequate storage and transportation, submit an application, and attend a class. After all that, they select partner agencies. I went through the process and was declined. This year, they aren't accepting any new partner agencies.
So even though there is a lot of food in Portland, there isn't necessarily a lot of nutrition available to the very poor. Even though there are hundreds of volunteers actively working to provide food to everyone in need, we rely on donations, and few people are donating meat, produce, and dairy products. We end up cooking meals that are heavy on rice or pasta, flavored with what little meat we can get, and supplemented with meager vegetable offerings.
Nobody has to go hungry in Portland, but malnutrition is a whole different story.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.