Oregon Food Bank: A Brief History

Oregon Food Bank is a nonprofit, charitable organization. It is the hub of a statewide network of 21 Regional Food Banks and over 950 hunger-relief agencies serving all of Oregon and Clark County in Washington. Oregon Food Bank recovers food from farmers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, individuals and government sources. It then distributes that food to 21 regional food banks across Oregon. Seventeen are independent charitable organizations. OFB directly operates the four regional food banks serving the Portland metro area, Tillamook and southeast Oregon. Those four centers distribute food weekly to approximately 300 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs helping low-income individuals in Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Tillamook, Malheur and Harney counties. OFB also works to eliminate the root causes of hunger through advocacy, nutrition education, learning gardens and public education.

Food banks spring up around the nation, not only to address hunger, but to eliminate food waste – a concept that grew out of the recycling movement.

Portland-area nonprofits create Interagency Food Bank, a central place to accept truckloads of donations and to distribute food equitably to a whole host of charitable organizations in the Portland-metro area of Clackamas, Multnomah, Clark and Washington counties.

Community nutritionists work with Governor Atiyeh, the Tri-County Community Council (now United Way of Columbia-Willamette) and Portland’s Interagency Food Bank to organize Oregon Food Share. Starting as a statewide food drive by state employees, the effort grows into the first statewide network of hunger-relief agencies in the U.S.

The federal government purchases vast quantities of commodities – such as powdered milk, cheese and butter – to keep the market up for farmers. Distribution requires a massive volunteer effort. Oregon Food Share uses its new network to distribute the surplus commodities.

Fourteen VISTA volunteers work with regional coordinating agencies (now called regional food banks) to get their programs up and running. By 1983, Oregon Food Share is distributing food to 225 hunger-relief agencies through a network of 19 regional coordinating agencies. Rachel Bristol hired as VISTA for OFS statewide office to secure food and transport donations and to help develop statewide operations and policies.

Oregon Food Share has its first warehouse space on S.E. 20th, which it shares with Interagency Food Bank. Each agency has 5,000 square feet of space and shares office space.

Interagency Food Bank moves to 3808 N. Williams. Oregon Food Share expands into the space that Interagency Food Bank vacated. Merger negotiations begin.

Interagency Food Bank and Oregon Food Share merge to become Oregon Food Bank. Oregon Food Share Acting Executive Director Rachel Bristol named Deputy Director. OFB begins distributing USDA Commodity Supplemental Food through a program known as Child’s Path. USDA TEFAP commodities reach their peak of just under 15-million pounds, totaling 75 percent of the product distributed by the Oregon Food Bank network.

OFB works with the Oregon legislature to create the Hunger Relief Task Force to work on federal and state policies involving hunger issues.

OFB Board of Directors appoints Rachel Bristol as its executive director.

Tualatin Valley Food Center (formed in 1982), the regional coordinating agency (regional food bank) for Washington County, becomes a program of Oregon Food Bank. It is now known as Oregon Food Bank-Washington County Services.

Oregon Food Bank creates its Advocacy Department to focus on public policy issues affecting hunger and poverty.

Oregon Food Bank begins operating two new programs. The member-run Community Basket supplemental food program provides groceries and nutritional information. Harvest Share Produce Recovery program picks up fresh produce that is edible but unsaleable from local wholesalers and distributes it to “free farmers market” Harvest Share sites at local agencies in the Portland-metro area.

Oregon Food Bank-Washington County Services establishes Tualatin Valley Gleaners. The Oregon legislature allocates $900,000 to OFB to mitigate the effects of welfare reform. The grant includes funds for a statewide gleaning coordinator through 1999 as well as funds for freezers and trucks for the OFB Network. OFB Board conducts a feasibility study to investigate permanent facility options for merging all Portland programs and staff.

OFB establishes a Volunteer Action Center at the local distribution center on North Williams Avenue to expand volunteer opportunities in the evenings and on weekends.

In response to growing need and increased costs, OFB embarks on a Capital Campaign to build a new warehouse and office facility.

OFB moves into a new 108,000-square-foot warehouse, uniting OFB’s statewide and Portland-metro programs under one roof, eliminating many inefficiencies of operating two separate buildings and increasing storage capacity.

OFB begins Fresh Alliance to work with the retail food industry to increase donations of nutritious perishable food such as meat, eggs, dairy and produce. OFB creates two Learning Gardens, one in Portland and another in Washington County.

Oregon Food Bank adopts its third five-year strategic plan to increase the volume and nutritional quality of the food it distributes, build network capacity, enhance volunteer and financial donor support and address the underlying causes of hunger.

Oregon Harvest Dinner, a signature fundraising event of OFB, created. Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force moved to Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon, changed to Oregon Hunger Task Force.

OFB establishes Southeast Oregon Regional Food Bank to increase services to Malheur and Harney counties. TEFAP commodities decline after reaching 13 million lbs. at the same time that national donations drop following change in America’s Second Harvest’s (now Feeding America) allocation system.

Oregon Food Bank assumes responsibility for services in Tillamook County. OFB restructures the organization following five years of rapid growth. Waterfront Blues Festival celebrates 20 years of fighting hunger. $1.2 million biennial appropriation secured from state to build network capacity and local support. Network support fund expanded.

Purchases grow to offset decline in available food. OFB adopts its fourth five-year strategic plan for the period 2008-2012.

OFB launches $8.5M capital campaign to create new and permanent Westside facility for Washington County Services to replace the Hillsboro location. Building in Beaverton purchased, remodel begins. OFB creates FEAST (Food, Education, Agriculture, Solutions, Together) Program to support community food security. OFB grows to 130 employees at four locations.

OFB West Capital Campaign completed. OFB West opens in July, and volunteer shifts, produce repack and Fresh Alliance product volume all grow because of the increased capacity. Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon names OFB a Community Partner Organizations for 2010-2012.

Westside Learning Garden established at the Five Oaks Middle School near OFB West, in partnership with the Rachel Carson Environmental School. Tillamook County Services moves into a new leased facility. The Childhood Hunger Coalition becomes a formal program of OFB. For the first time, the OFB Network distributes enough food in one year to fill over 1 million emergency food boxes.

The Waterfront Blues Festival celebrates 25 years of fighting hunger. CEO Rachel Bristol retires June 30, 2012 from OFB after 29 years. Susannah Morgan joins OFB November 5, 2012 as the new CEO. OFB’s advocacy work results in a new “bycatch” law bringing previously wasted fish to hungry people. OFB partners with Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon and OSU to hold the first statewide Food Security Summit in Corvallis.

Oregon Food Bank receives a 2013 Feeding America Innovation Award in food banking for the FEAST program. 26th Annual Waterfront Blues festival charges for entry to the event – for the first time - on one of the four days; nets over $1M for the first time. Clark County Food Bank joins the OFB Network as the 21st Regional Food Bank.

OFB’s Advocacy Department inducted into Feeding America’s “Advocacy Hall of Fame.” OFB grows to 142 staff.