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Category : Hunger Canada

p>March 10, 2012

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Bringing up hunger for dinner table conversation

By: David Sarasohn

In its current Families Against Hunger Weekend, the Southwest Portland community agency Neighborhood House is launching a bold new strategy for local families and religious groups concerned about Oregon's hunger problem:

Stay home.

And talk about it.

Because, where's a better place to focus on hunger than a dinner table?

"What we're asking people to do," explains Neighborhood House executive director Rick Nitti, "is sit down to dinner with their children and talk about hunger."

And figure out the places the conversation could go.

You could see how the subject could come up. Southwest Portland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about hunger -- of course, neither is Oregon, and we all know how that works out -- but need has been spreading through the area like blackberry vines.

Neighborhood House estimates it provides emergency food to 500 families a month, and it recently began a program specifically for seniors. By Oregon Food Bank calculations, from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2011, the number of people served in Neighborhood House's emergency food program rose by 117 percent.

In Southwest Portland, near carefully arranged antiques shops and inviting brunch hangouts, it's now not unknown for schools to have more than 50 percent of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The immediate remedy for hunger is, of course, food, and the most direct goal of Neighborhood House's annual Southwest Hope campaign this year, lasting until April 1, is to bring in 150,000 pounds of food or the cash equivalent. It's a major effort, involving 60 local partners, including businesses, agencies and more than 23 Southwest religious institutions -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

But this year, the goal is a bit wider than that -- beyond bringing in canned goods to actually bringing up hunger as a subject. In past years, Southwest Hope had a larger restaurant component, with restaurants generously donating a portion of a day's receipts. That's a smaller part of

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the package now.

People don't generally talk about hunger in restaurants.

At home, however, it might come up.

"There are people begging on the streets in Portland," points out Neighborhood House development director Mari Yerger. "It's pretty hard not to notice."

What's harder to notice -- what could actually take some conversation -- is the level of hunger that isn't us cialis obvious on the street. The national food bank alliance Feeding America, after all, has calculated that Oregon has the highest rate of child

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food insecurity in the country, meaning that there's a lot of hunger that isn't standing behind a cardboard sign in downtown Portland.

The goal of this weekend is not only to point out the existence of hunger but also to remind people that there are ways -- and yes, agencies -- to deal with it.

"There aren't very many places where you can bring in young children under the age of 12 to volunteer. They can stack the shelves and sort the donations," says Yerger. "We've had a groundswell of support."

It comes out of places such as St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, a longtime supporter of Neighborhood House and Southwest Hope, which holds regular food collection events, such as a Souper Bowl Sunday and an Italian dinner night.

"It's not a holiday thing," says Eva Calcagno of St. Barnabas. "A lot of people feel very generous during Christmas time, but hunger doesn't go away in January."

Calcagno's son Max, a high school senior, is a coordinator of the church's hunger events.

"For me it's important for my kids to understand that their really very comfortable life is not the norm for everybody," explains Calcagno, "but there are ways in this country to deal with that."

It's an interesting point.

In fact, it's something to talk about.

David Sarasohn, associate editor, can be reached at 503-221-8523 or See other writing at

Category : Hunger US