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Inside Oregon Food Bank: A Conversation with Celia Ferrer

As a woman of color, Celia knows what it feels like to face challenges in isolation, to be vulnerable to discrimination and to experience food insecurity. Yet Celia is also abundant with hope — and her experiences and identities have shaped her belief in the possibility of a better future.

“I'm an immigrant and a single mother. My primary motivation is to be able to give my kids and everyone's kids the best chance at life. I live and breathe that hope.”

Celia comes from a family of artists and educators in the Philippines, where community connections and sharing are ingrained in the culture. Growing up, her parents would host gatherings for family and friends, opening their house to anyone who wanted to join. There was an abundance of food, music and storytelling. They also owned a farm and taught Celia the importance of food and the labor that goes into every step of the production process – making sure she understood that not every person had dependable access to food.

“My mom would always say, the more you have in terms of scale of goods, talent, skills, resources or opportunities, the more responsibility you have to share that,” Celia reflects. “I benefited from having parents who worked so hard and sacrificed so much in their lives to give me the best chance at life — through education, for example. So I feel now, as a mother, I have that responsibility to give the best opportunity I could possibly give for my kids and all the kids in the world — to live in a world that is safer and more fair.”

Celia was a successful public relations executive for 13 years before immigrating to America. After becoming a parent, Celia wanted a shift to find an organization where she could bring her whole self to work, live her values and know that she was making a meaningful contribution to the world. Celia found that home at Oregon Food Bank, and now plays a leading role in our work as Community Philanthropy Associate Director. She was drawn to the organization’s focus on community, equity and love — and the work underway to de-center transactional, scarcity-minded fundraising methods.

“Love powers the work we do – and financial support is one way to express that love. Food justice work is another. But there are other expressions we look at too, like volunteering time, lending expertise, advocating for change. Instead of measuring our success solely by financials, we have shifted to a broader and more intentional metric: love.”

Celia Ferrer, Oregon Food Bank Community Philanthropy Associate Director

Celia finds inspiration in Oregon Food Bank’s commitment to end hunger for good – going beyond traditional food banking models to prevent food insecurity from happening in the first place. And that begins with an honest conversation about what causes hunger and poverty in the first place.

"Hunger is not a personal issue; it’s an issue that is born of systemic inequities that exist in our society. And so I feel strongly about being able to contribute to reshaping this society. That means eliminating the root causes of hunger and looking at the systems we operate in — from food production and distribution to redistributing wealth through community empowerment."

Celia’s commitment to bringing her authentic self to Oregon Food Bank is rooted in her lived experience. As an immigrant whose work history was largely outside the U.S., she faced discrimination in the job market. And like so many of us, Celia’s financial security was further threatened by pandemic-spurred layoffs.

“I decided to apply for [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], and hoped that SNAP would tide me through pandemic unemployment,” Celia recalls. “As a single mother and an immigrant, I was at greater risk of food insecurity, and the pandemic was a scary time — my usual pillars of support are far away. I needed to rely on help from my community.”

Celia holds a college degree, and she comes from a family full of love and resources — and yet, her experience with food insecurity showed her that at any given time, someone’s access to food can change. Celia shares her story in hopes that others will feel less alone. And her point is spot-on: nearly half of all Americans will experience hardship that requires us to tap into public support at some point in our lives. One in 5 Oregonians born outside of the U.S. live in poverty, and 1 in 3 single mothers in our state lives below the poverty line.

“With the identities that I carry, I felt that it was important to be able to share my story. I hoped that people who have experienced those same struggles would resonate with my story and see a glimmer of hope – that even in those trying times there can be strength,” Celia says.

Celia Ferrer, Oregon Food Bank Community Philanthropy Associate Director

Celia hopes her story will reach people and spark inspiration for them to build community, one person — or one initiative — at a time. It’s as simple as getting involved in a neighborhood pantry, advocating for legislation like Food for All Oregonians, or supporting organizations that focus on addressing inequities in our communities. And she has advice for others in the community who might be afraid to seek out resources or may think they're not deserving:

“If you need food, help, assistance, or community, just reach out. There are systems around us that may have predisposed you to where you are. It's not uncommon to feel vulnerable, things happen,” Celia shares. “Know that it’s okay. Know that you are strong, even if you sometimes don’t feel like it. There are people willing to help, and there are organizations and human beings who want to get you to a place where you can tap into your own strength.”

Celia believes in a world where communities thrive. And she hopes that that world is filled with abundance, dignity, art and joy.

“Communities that don't know hunger are more caring, more nurturing…are able to freely explore the beauty of the world around us. At the same time, we have the best chance at learning new things or addressing new challenges well because we have nourishment” Celia observes. “For me, working for Oregon Food Bank means there is a chance to use my talents in the shifting of this tide. I don't know if we'll be able to solve the root causes of hunger in this lifetime, but I'm hoping that my children and the generations after them can live a life that is more just for everyone.”

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