A two-day event building and delivering food boxes to 500 needy families in Portland gives Lincoln High School affinity groups something to bond over. Plus: what the Oregon Food Bank wants you to know about hunger.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Laurie Yosemite-Caputi, a junior at Lincoln High School, tapes together a box as she and others prepare boxes of food for families in need during the school's annual food drive.The cafeteria at Lincoln High School was abuzz with activity Friday evening as about 55 students and some adults filled 500 food boxes for families in need.

James McGee, school counselor and adviser to Lincoln's Black Student Union and Men of Color, said he was inspired that so many young people would stay after school officially let out for vacation to spend a few hours filling boxes. "We're off now for Winter Break, yet they're here," McGee said.

But many of the students said they were happy to. It gave them a sense of purpose and of giving back. "The fact that we've done it for four years is brilliant," said Black Student Union President Semeredin Kundin as he unpacked a pallet of canned corn.

The boxes were filled with cans of soup, vegetables, fruit and other staples like pasta that were purchased with donated funds, as well as loaves of bread donated by Oroweat and Franz.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith gives words of encouragement to students during Lincoln High School's annual food drive.On Saturday morning, after the addition of fresh oranges and meat, the heavy boxes were delivered by hand by alumni and parents to 500 households identified as needing the food support by St. Vincent de Paul. The boxes of food were designed to feed a family of four for a week.

McGee said the exercise was good for community building among the school's students of color, including some incoming eighth graders and departed graduates who were also invited to participate.

"For me, this is personal," added McGee, divulging that he was a recipient of this type of charity growing up and wanted to give back. "As a kid, you don't really think about it, but as you get older, you think about what people did to make sure you had a nice Christmas."

Henok Techeste, a Lincoln graduate studying electrical computer engineering at Oregon State University, said he also knows firsthand the importance of this work.

"I see that Portland-wide we need to do this to help," Techeste said, adding that he has needed to sleep outside in his past. "I know why it's really important and I wanted to be here to let the younger guys know why we're here."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Students in the Black Student Union, Men of Color and Sisters of Color student groups at Lincoln High School carry flats of canned food and fill boxes with them for families in need Friday, Dec. 15.

Struggling families

The event, in its fourth year, is a spin-off of a larger effort through Beaverton's Jesuit High School.

Lincoln parent and alumnus Brian Lamson said he approached Principal Peyton Chapman with the idea to do a Jesuit-style food drive. At about the same time, McGee approached her looking for a service project for his students to do.

Chapman said she was happy to play matchmaker but gave credit to the alumni and school groups for carrying out the work.

Despite many of the students who started the food drive four years ago graduating this school year, everyone said they hope and expect the holiday tradition to continue for many years.

"There's still many families in our Portland community and in our Lincoln High School community that are struggling," McGee said.

5 things Oregon Food Bank wants you to know about hunger

1. Hunger is year-round

Myrna Jensen, a public relations official for Oregon Food Bank, says the nonprofit is grateful for the end-of-year donations that make up the bulk of their operating funds. But, she notes, "Hunger is a year-round problem. It is not just during the holidays." Jensen recommends that while people are thinking about the less-fortunate during this time of year, that they sign up for automatic monthly donations or sign up for volunteer shifts a few months from now — already available on their website.

2. GOP plans could be 'devastating'

Jensen says the food bank is very concerned that the Republican federal tax plan will hit low-income Americans and their federal budget plans will cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan benefits.

"That could really devastate some of the people that we serve," she said. "We're going to be needing to provide more food. They're going to look to us. … This is a great time of year for our donations, but we're getting a little nervous going into 2018 not knowing what's going to happen."

3. Food box recipients tend to either be working or unable to work

Many of the 800,000 people served by the Oregon Food Bank each year in the state and Clark County, Washington, are either employed or unable to work due to their age or medical needs. A 2015 report said 38 percent of recipients have a working member of the household. Thirty-two percent are children. Forty-six percent have more than a high school diploma.

"We're talking the working poor," Jensen said. "People who are not making a wage that allows them to live. They just haven't gotten a raise or not much a raise to keep up with the cost of housing."

4. Small, individual donations make the bulk of their funds

"Most of our donations are really those smaller donations that individuals make," Jensen says. "Those power a lot of what we do."

5. Cash goes further than food

Through bulk purchasing and grants, the Oregon Food Bank can make $1 stretch to make three meals. Also, Jensen says, money is needed for transportation costs, such as getting surplus food off farms, or deliveries to food pantries. However, she adds that food donations do provide variety and specialty goods that the food bank would not otherwise be able to provide.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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