Friday, September 6, 2013

The faith behind food work

Some of the Biblical verses that stick out the most for me, especially working with delivering food for those who need it, is from Matthew 25:35, 37, 40.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... Truly I will tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
These verses were hammered into my education at a catholic elementary and middle school, with annual charity events being put into context by them. And now that I'm working with an interfaith organization in regards to hunger, the past few weeks have been thought provoking.

While my personal context of faith revolves around Catholicism, not all of those who are of faith and engage in social justice work are Christian in some sense. For Lift Urban Portland, there are several Jewish synagogues and organizations that also support the work.

I'll be the first to attempt that even with several years of Catholic school and a world religion class, there isn't a whole lot that I know about Judaism. So I took to the internet to learn more about the religion and found an organization called Mazon, which is a Jewish response to hunger and provides resources as to Biblical context.

Deuteronomy 15:11 "For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land"

Isaiah 58:10 "If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicated, than shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday"

Psalms 146 talks about a God that "executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry"

And there are plenty of other verses and other reasons why people of faith are involved with feeding the hungry.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Canned versus fresh

One of the things that I am most proud of is that the food pantry I work in always offers fresh fruit and vegetables. Some comes from our own gardens, some from the Oregon Food Bank's garden, and most comes from gleaning projects and supermarkets. On delivery days from OFB, our big fridge has been filled to the brim with produce, to the point where I'm often scrambling to find room for everything. But because of all of that, we're able to offer people lettuce, tomatoes, carrots (oh lord, so many carrots), apples, berries, and so much more.

There is only one issue with the fresh food: There aren't many times after we close the pantry in which we can keep a lot of the produce for the next day we're open. So often times what happens is that at the end of the day, we bring the extra bread and produce to the low income buildings in the area. This definitely has some great qualities to it but one of the issues is always that we never know what might come in each day we're open. Some days we have huge quantities of all types of produce but other days, we might be low on many items but have massive amounts of carrots and nectarines. What we get for produce fluctuates every day.

That is the nice thing that canned food: it takes much longer for canned goods to go bad (weeks versus days). With cans, we're able to make sure that there's a bit more of a consistent stock of food.

The downside is that there's a reason canned food can take so long to go bad: preservatives. Often times, canned food is filled with things that aren't good for anyone but that's often times why they can last on shelves much longer.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dear Lift Urban Portland

Yesterday was my last official day as your summer intern. While it has been less than a week since I was in the pantry and less than 24 hours since the very nicely run Garden Party, I already miss working with everyone.

To the food pantry volunteers, thank you for your incredible amount of hard work, dedication, and patience. This summer has some tricks up its sleeves for us and thank you for just rolling with the punches as they came along. Each and every single one of you are amazing and I've really enjoyed my time working with you all.

To the office staff and garden party committee, thank you for all of your patience as I tried as hard as I could to help out as much as I could. Being a part of the staff meetings and the garden committee really meant a lot to me and really instilled a lot of confidence in me.

To every single person I met over this summer, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Working with this organization instilled a brand new passion for treating people in a faithful and holistic way that I did not have before.

This summer was nothing like I had planned but it was way more amazing than I ever thought it could be. I'm really grateful for the random happenstance that lead me to Lift Urban Portland because this summer gave me brand new skills that I would not have gotten anywhere else.

And while last night was the official end of my internship, I know that it wasn't the last time that I would be working in this field.

Thank you again,
When I was searching for Biblical verses that are about hunger, I came across one that was really great in regards to gleaning practices. (There is actually a blog post from Transformational Missions about what the Bible says about hunger, where I got these verses from.)

When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you knock down the fruit from your olive tree, you must not go over the branches again. What remains will be for the foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you must not glean what is left. What remains will be for the foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow.
-Deuteronomy 24:19-21
This passage is particularly important in regards to hunger for several reasons. The phrase "foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow" repeats three times to stress the importance of helping those in most need. The specific identities are relevant to the historical aspect of the Bible, as during the time, those who were a foreign resident or fatherless or a widow tended to be some of the most vulnerable in a community. So in this case, the wording of the passage can't be used literally but should instead be used figuratively to mean the most vulnerable.

The reason that I'm particularly drawn to this passage is because of the specific mention of gleaning. This just shows how old the practice is and also shows that there's no specific way in which to glean.

Gleaning is extremely important to at least the food pantry that I worked in and is something that isn't specific to getting left over food from farms and harvests. Most of the gleaned food that goes through the Lift Urban Portland's food pantry actually comes from stores like Trader Joes and Franz Bread and organizations like Urban Gleaners.

So next time you go grocery shopping, spend a moment considering where the unpurchased leftover food (especially produce and bread) might go at the end of the day. I personally hope that most of it ends up as donations to help stock food pantries in the area.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

“We get so little news about the developing world that we often forget that there are literally millions of people out there struggling to change things to be fairer, freer, more democratic, less corrupt.” — Alex Steffen

What changed when I went to Africa

When I was first in Kenya last summer, I wrote about my journey to get there, which started when I was young and my cousin went into the Peace Corps.

For long periods of my life, my perception of Africa was exactly what media told me about. I had built an entire ideology of the continent that was filled with images of hunger, war, and sickness. I lumped the entire continent together, despite the fact that Africa is home to 54 different countries, has over 3,000 different languages (Nigeria alone is home to around 500 languages, making it the biggest concentration of linguistic diversities), and is roughly 3 times the size of the United States in land mass.

So with this exceedingly naive impression of a place I knew pretty much nothing about, I was convinced for awhile that I was going to Africa and I was going to save the people who were, in my limited and uneducated opinion, obviously suffering.

But I went and found that yes, there were all of the things that the media described but those were not in any way the only aspects of Africa. I realized that I had come to define a place simply based on the negative aspects and not what it truly was.

Being there, I found a place that was filled with wealth, poverty, and everything in between. I met people filled with humor, laughter, love, and curiosity. I found ways to laugh at my flaws and ignorance in a way that only being in another culture would have taught me.

And when I was there, I found that Kenya was nothing what I had expected yet everything that I had imagined. Those two months taught me more about the world than I could ever imagine but most importantly, taught me that I will always continue to learn about the world.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The book of Ruth is one of my favorite books in the entire Bible, mainly because of the loyalty shown by Ruth to her mother in law but also because of the story's mild focus on the practice of gleaning. (If you haven't yet, I recommend reading the Book of Ruth. It's pretty short.)

The Oregon Food Bank defines gleaning as "an ancient practice of collecting the remaining crop from the field after it had been harvested". In Ruth, one of the ways in which Ruth and her mother in law survived was because a man had allowed Ruth to glean in his fields and gather food. 

Gleaning also goes back several centuries in France, where there is a 500 year old law (roughly) that commands French farmers to allow those who are low income or poor to glean their fields.

But for the state of Oregon, groups especially for gleaning have been around since the 1970s. There is an articled called "Urban Food Gleaning, Portland Style" that highlights some of the really great work that some organizations do in the Portland area around gleaning. The article mentions that while the Oregon Food Bank is able to catch a lot of food before it makes it to the landfill (or hopefully it was on its way to the compost), there is still roughly 200,000 TONS of food every year in Portland that is thrown away. 

During my time in the food pantry, it has been really interesting to see how much of our food is actually gleaned. One Trader Joes location donates left over food to us every Friday so far and every Tuesday, a volunteer comes in with gleaned food from other locations. Having this food is amazing because most of it helps us keep our fresh produce section stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. 

However, what I have discovered is that sometimes, there is too much of a good thing. I can't tell you how many bananas we received because the number is in the dozens of dozens (and many more dozens). And while we often get a lot of bread, the difficult thing is that most of the bread is rolls or french bread, instead of the sliced bread most recipients would like. So gleaning can be a great and wonderful thing, along with being a rather interesting problem as well.

The last thing (for now) about gleaning that I'll end with is the Portland based organization called Urban Gleaners. This organization does a lot in regard to growing food, hosting markets for people to buy the food, and also providing ways in which different populations (such as school children) can also access fresh food.