The Sunday Oregonian published David Sarasohn’s interview with Susannah Morgan: “New Oregon Food Bank head seeks the next course”
Seven weeks into her job as the Oregon Food Bank's new executive director, Susannah Morgan thinks about things like this:
Suppose a pediatrician, diagnosing a child with a malnutrition issue such as an iron deficiency, had the capacity to prescribe spinach?
And, with some help, provide it?
"What I would like to do," the former head of the Alaska Food Bank imagines, "is have 10 crazy ideas, try them for a couple of years, and then say that one worked, that one didn't."
The boldness isn't because the food bank and the Oregon effort against hunger haven't worked. It's because they have, and that creates opportunities.
"In Alaska, I could think of 10 obvious things to do," Morgan explains. In Oregon, "The obvious programming efforts are already in place."
But despite dramatic organizational efforts and successes, Oregon's hunger levels remain stubbornly high. It's not the food bank's fault, but it has become the food bank's challenge.
To Morgan, who has a national perspective from working with the Chicago-based alliance Feeding America, the Oregon Food Bank is in a unique position to take on the challenge.
"No place else is a food bank as well-connected, as well-coordinated," she says. "We do not need to be limited by resources. We can think big."
A few food banks around the country, for example. have gone into small-scale farming. Some, she notes, have moved into food processing, notably the Redwood Empire food bank in Northern California -- which, being near a freeze-drying plant, received large donations of tomato flakes and garlic flakes, and developed ways to use them.
The Oregon Food Bank's offerings are different. But when 10 truckloads of turnips show up on your loading dock, it could be useful to think beyond dropping a turnip into every emergency food box.
The challenge arises particularly from the exploding importance of nutrition. Increasingly, food banks are called on not just to fill stomachs, but to do it in a way that encourages health and discourages obesity. For many Americans, obesity is not the opposite of hunger but the flip side, as they try to stretch their food budgets by piling up freeze-dried ramen noodles instead of more expensive fresh produce.
"I think the whole nutrition question is taking the food bank world by storm," says Morgan. "We know that brochures don't work. We know that labels on shelves don't work. We know that personal contact works."
Both teaching and processing connect to another considerable OFB resource, a sizable volunteer operation. The food bank might also mobilize another iconic Portland resource, a battalion of skilled local chefs, including many who have already shown a willingness to be part of the hunger struggle.
Compared with her assignment in the 49th state, Morgan has those human resources to work with, along with a lot more donated produce and "a real understanding that hunger is a government issue, something I don't think I ever achieved in Alaska."
That broader sense of responsibility flows directly into the Oregon Food Bank's historic charge to itself, to take on not only hunger but also the conditions that create it -- often in alliance with other local activist groups.
"The work happening on the root cause side," says Morgan, "is going to have to be very innovative."
Susannah Morgan's conversation bubbles with this expansive sense of possibility, as she tosses out a new idea or a distant example or bursts into curl-shaking laughter. Each topic brings up another, rolling down new paths she sees stretching before an Oregon Food Bank with unique resources and credibility.
"I feel," she says, "like I've been given wings."
And maybe spinach.