At Oregon Food Bank, we know that hunger is not just an individual experience; it’s also a community-wide symptom of unequal access and barriers to employment, education, housing and health care.

That’s why our work to build community connections that help everyone access nutritious, affordable food is so important. And that work is most effective when people like Mecca are in the lead — those who have faced hunger and know what it takes to build stronger communities.

Mecca was one of thousands of so-called “Able-Bodied Adults without Dependants” (ABAWDs) whose federal food assistance was threatened in recent years by strict work requirements. The new rules brought Mecca to Oregon Food Bank.

“Once I was there, I realized where all the [food] assistance I was getting from the churches and the pantries was coming from,” Mecca remembers. “From all the help I got from the food bank, that’s what makes me want to go in every week and volunteer.”

Mecca experienced congestive heart failure when he lived on the streets. His whole body filled with fluid, doubling in size. He went blind and couldn’t walk or breathe. Without a safe and secure home or decent health care, he found himself in and out of hospitals.

Finally, after being connected to proper medical and transitional housing support in the community, Mecca found the stability to change everything about his nutrition and exercise.

Volunteering weekly at Oregon Food Bank became a central component of Mecca’s personal wellness plan. But like so many volunteers who have experienced hunger, his involvement doesn’t end there. Mecca has gone on to build a robust food distribution program at his housing complex.

“My volunteer work is what I’m proud of right now,” Mecca says with a grin. “The feeling of helping people like I was helped. It gets into you and you want to keep doing it.”