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The Oregonian: Food bank's Rachel Bristol deserves recognition for three decades setting Oregon's table

May 1, 2012
Author:
David Sarasohn - The Oregonian
Topics:
OFB General
Rachel Bristol

People are frequently honored with dinners.

Rarely is it so appropriate.

Friday's dinner to honor Rachel Bristol's retirement after 29 years leading the Oregon Food Bank symbolized literally tens of millions of other dinners, distributed over decades to Oregon families who had run out of other options. Bristol's monument was built in hundreds of church basements, out of family-size cans of chili and boxes of macaroni collected in countless food drives.

Over decades, the Oregon Food Bank has become one of the state's leading brands, with local contributors, volunteers and businesses in active support. Distributing the fourth-largest amount of food in the country -- out of 202 food banks -- the OFB is a point of Oregon pride, a marker of our sense of obligation toward one another.

The Oregon Food Bank didn't even exist in 1983, when Bristol became a Vista volunteer for Oregon Food Share, which later merged with another group to create OFB. Since then, the food bank has connected with hundreds of local client agencies, built one of the nation's state-of-the-art warehouse/headquarters in Northeast Portland, and determinedly created a network that reaches and feeds the farthest corners of Oregon.

Moreover, the food bank has developed into an influential policy advocate, bringing the credibility it has built over years of food drives and increasing statewide support to the state Capitol. For both fundraising and policy debates, Oregon Food Bank has assembled an enviable corporate coalition, and its agricultural alliances nourish both consumers and growers. An effort focused on hunger, it has attracted powerful and enthusiastic support from Oregon's chefs, drawing along their constituency of the best-fed people in Oregon.

The advocacy has been not just for food, but increasingly for healthy food, driven by farmers' contributions of produce and food bank classes in how to use it. Under Bristol, the food bank was concerned not only with Oregonians who had nothing to eat, but also with those trying to fill their stomachs with low-nutrition packaged ramen.

To Bristol, OFB's explosive growth -- last year, the food bank and its client agencies distributed more than 1 million emergency food boxes -- is not entirely cause for celebration; it's a sign that Oregon is getting hungrier. Ideally, emergency food boxes would be virtually unnecessary. When Bristol went to work for Oregon Food Share in 1983, in the midst of another bone-shaking recession, she thought that goal -- not a burgeoning statewide structure -- was the real objective.

We're nowhere near that. But Bristol's career, and the Oregon Food Bank she has done so much to build, loudly send the message she declared to the group gathered to honor her: "Hunger is wrong. And it's solvable."

It's an understandable food bank position. It's a testament to Bristol's achievement that it's now so widely held an Oregon position.

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