Troutdale, Oregon, to Salem, Oregon
By Abby Donelly July 15, 2020
Known for lush greenery and charm, Oregon is a hallmark landscape of the nation, from Portland to national parks. Though the state has unparalleled beauty, the landscape cannot eclipse Oregon’s pressing hunger problem and need for change. Nationally, the food insecurity rate for American households is 11.1%. The high percentage of families facing food insecurity in Oregon challenges that number, raising the state’s level to almost 15%. Oregon communities are desperate for help in food access, education, and sustainability. Sayla Elsbree-Kraft set out to help solve this problem.
“People who don’t know or have the direct connection to hunger think that there isn’t hunger or that it is some far off thing that happens. Many people would be surprised to find out how many of their neighbors face food insecurity,” Sayla reflected.
After completing her degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at UC Davis, Sayla began her work at an urban farm in Santa Cruz, the Homeless Garden Project. The organization provided training and support for people who are currently homeless or previously were homeless. “It was a space that brought together all walks of life and really inspired the way farming and food can bring people together,” Sayla said, “I was really excited to get involved.” This organization marked the beginning of a career that would impact not only the way people thought about food sustainability and access, but also thousands of lives in need.
At the Marion Polk Food Share, Sayla manages food donations and partnerships with local organizations, continuing to improve her Oregon community. “We are all doing a good thing and doing it together,” she notes, referencing her team at the food share.
Katie O’Connor, the food share’s communications and marketing manager, is one of her coworkers who shares Sayla’s passion and energy and utilizes her unique creative skill set to make a difference. “Something as simple as being able to provide human food is a basic need, something that isn’t being fulfilled. You just really want to be helping people,” Katie remarked.
The team at Marion Polk Food Share manifests real change: their largest food distribution program provides for emergency relief, supplying food for over 120 partner agencies, pantries, and meal sites. During COVID-19, pantries have seen a 50 percent increase for families in need. To compensate, the food share operates pop-up sites in school parking lots as well as Meals on Wheels, serving about 900 families and 700 seniors weekly. Through their passion and work, they have fed over 47,000 individuals with over 11 million pounds of food, 60 percent of which is fresh and frozen products. “We are just growing and growing,” Sayla said. Through their connection with The Farmlink Project, 40,000 pounds of potatoes were transported from Strebin Farms to Marion Polk Food Share, feeding thousands. Katie remembered, “There are so many people in need. Just seeing the faces, seeing children carry the food, what the food means to them, leaves a mark on my personal heart...stories like that are really powerful.”
As Sayla and Katie face the future, they remain passionate about finding the root causes of hunger and providing relief to their local communities. Their work at the food share will continue to supply basic needs and support their neighbors through their incredible daily impact. While the pandemic is far from over, Katie and Sayla have just gotten started. Their passion has shown how they can make an ugly situation a beautiful destination.