Hunger kills education. This experiment has been done again and again with the same result. Luckily, the government instituted the free lunch program for financially limited families. But if they are experiencing hunger in school, it is almost a guarantee that they are experiencing it at home.
Food deserts and high poverty plague North Portland. Most of the schools we researched had at least 75% of their students receiving free lunches. When you have numbers that large, it is hard to know where to start to remedy hunger at home. The Oregon Food Bank gives out emergency food boxes but sometimes these don’t even stretch far enough. We were directed to The Portland Backpack Lunch Program and we were blown away, for many reasons.
The story of the Portland Backpack Lunch Program is a story that far predates the actual formation of the charity. The founder Marilyn Mauch (now in her 70’s) grew up in California under poverty’s yolk. However, with the help of her local community and neighbors she was able to stay fed, thrive and eventually earn her PhD. The program started here in Oregon with the help of the Fremont Methodist church and grew to include a conglomeration of 4 different congregations and community supporters. Their goal is to provide two lunches (and oatmeal packets for breakfast) a weekend for the participating students. The program started in 2007 with 10 students at Woodlawn Elementary and has grown to 237 students from four different schools. As a non-proselytizing charity, they are able to receive help from many different churches in the area. The cost of one year of their program costs about $33,000 – $34,000.The need of the program is almost insurmountable.
This is a daunting task, but we set forth with flyers, Facebook blasts and a gofundme account. All this advertising and we were only able to raise $120 dollars. A small sum, but one child will be taken care of for the next year. Every donation, even change helps the cause. It was a challenge working with local businesses. Portland has a lot of homelessness and poverty stricken areas, so businesses are incessantly hit up for donations. Because of this, there was a lot of “red tape”, and we did not receive a single donation from any of them.
In the end we did manage to raise money, but what is more important is that we have made this program more visible. It is our hope that this program not only finds the donations it needs through grants and various donors, but also that future capstone students choose to spotlight it and work alongside it. The more that folks know about it, the more people will talk about it. We have been conscripted into the ranks of the Portland Backpack Lunch Program and are dedicated to seeing it succeed. This experience changed how we look at our community and how we interact with it. Instead of being passive and focusing in on ourselves, it has taught us that there are more important things in life. We challenge you, gentle reader, to share our crusade. Do it, it feels good!