Every day in Oregon, hundreds of thousands of our neighbors engage in a lonely and all but invisible struggle to aŽfford enough food for themselves and their families. They face choices no one should ever have to, and they do so with so much strength, resilience and quiet dignity that most people in our society never even notice how prevalent hunger is in our own neighborhoods.

The narrative around poverty and hunger in America is dominated more and more every day by the false perception that people who are struggling are not working hard enough or making poor choices. The purpose of Oregon Food Bank’s annual Voices project is to shine a light on the real causes of hunger by bringing attention to real stories of people we serve. We traveled across the state to speak with food insecure Oregonians about issues that matter to them.

In Tillamook, we met a man who has been told his whole life that he shouldn’t even be alive. “I’m one of those ghost people,” he said. In Burns, we met a man who went without electricity and running water for four years to avoid losing his home. In St. Helens, we met a woman who dreams of a future in which her children will not have to struggle, even as she is forced to serve mayonnaise sandwiches—the only food she has—for dinner.

We sincerely appreciate the honesty and courage of those who shared their experiences with us. These stories moved and educated us. No one should be hungry, and so long as hunger still exists, no one should have to face it alone.

The Voices Focus Group Project

In October and November of 2013, 71 people who received emergency food assistance in the last year attended Voices focus groups in Burns, Central Point, La Grande, Mehama, Portland, Springfield, St. Helens and Tillamook. Oregon Food Bank’s partner agencies recruited participants randomly and these small-group conversations were two hours long. The stories and ideas shared during the focus groups provide valuable insight and help us better accomplish our mission to eliminate hunger and its root causes.

This year our discussions focused on food and nutrition, the economy and job market, and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

SNAP (formerly called food stamps) is a federal nutrition assistance program that gives low-income Americans food dollars on an electronic benefits card, which they can use to purchase food from grocery stores and other retailers. Many of the participants in this year’s Voices project learned that the food assistance they receive through SNAP would be cut on November 1, 2013 during the focus group discussion or in the days leading up to it. They were concerned about how the $5 billion cut would impact them.

 Voices Focus Group 2014