Field Site Spotlight: Portland, Oregon

Erica McCoy, Jamila CervantesField, Leland

Welcome back to Field Site Spotlight, our ongoing series where current Emerson National and Leland International Hunger Fellows share what they are working on at their field placements.

Fellows Erica McCoy and Jamila Cervantes have been working at Oregon Food Bank (OFB) in Portland, OR, a partner of the Emerson program since the 10th Class of 2003-2004. As you’ll read, OFB has adopted a commitment to equity across their organization, and the work of the Hunger Fellows is in direct support of this commitment. Whether redesigning educational programs to meet the needs of new arrivals to the Pacific Northwest, or investigating the ways that clients are engaged and centered in OFB’s service delivery model, Erica and Jamila are on hand to help OFB meet their goals.

Hunger Fellows Erica McCoy (with glasses) and Jamila Cervantes
at the end of field training, August 2017.

Erica McCoy

Before I opened the email announcing that I would be working in Portland, OR for my field site placement, I never would’ve envisioned myself living here. I knew nothing about Portland other than that it was located in Oregon and that there was an airport. Since moving here two months ago I have learned that Portland is a somewhat contradictory place: individuality is valued and people can let their freak flag fly, but cultural diversity is lacking compared to other places such as the Bay Area in California where I went to school. Moving to such a different environment was initially jarring for me and the weather didn’t really help either. Now I am feeling a lot more grounded and Portland is slowly growing on me. I’ve had some great opportunities, met some amazing people and have made connections that have allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. As Jamila and I continue to live here, I look forward to new adventures.

While in Portland I am working for Oregon Food Bank (OFB) as the new Seed to Supper Training Coordinator for their pilot Seed to Supper Ambassadors Program. OFB is a Feeding America affiliate with the overall mission “to end hunger and its root causes…because no one should be hungry.” They attempt to meet this mission by providing direct service, programming, and advocacy to people that seek their help. OFB is a unique powerhouse that serves the entire state as well as Clark County, Washington. They collect food from various sources such as USDA’s TEFAP program and local farmers that they then distribute to their statewide network of 21 regional food banks and about 970 partner agencies. Additionally, they offer educational programming to members of their network, with Cooking Matters and Seed to Supper classes. Recently, OFB has made a shift to take a more equitable approach in the work they do both internally and externally. This is evident in their dedication to provide fresh produce to all, as well as their efforts to decrease barriers for program participants by offering free classes in both English and Spanish.

My work fits directly into this focus on equity at Oregon Food Bank. According to 2010 US Census data Portland is 76.1% White with a foreign born population of 14.1%. In order to meet the needs of immigrant and refugee communities OFB has dedicated funds to the creation of the Seed to Supper Ambassadors Program, which I am leading for my project as an Emerson Fellow. I am in charge of the design and launch of this program that will empower community leaders with the tools and skills needed to teach their communities how to grow a low-cost vegetable garden in Oregon. The goal is to tailor OFB’s current Seed to Supper curriculum to meet the needs of each community, specifically the immigrant and refugee communities within the Tri-metro area, which includes Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties. The Seed to Supper curriculum was created by OFB in partnership with OSU Extension and teaches people how to grow their own food on a budget in the Pacific Northwest. Currently the program is only accessible to individuals who speak English or Spanish, but this new program will change that and hopefully address some of my initial concerns of diversity in Portland.

Taking a “train the trainer” approach, Ambassadors are paid community leaders that will help with the adaptation of Seed to Supper, participate in facilitation training, and lead-garden based workshops in their community. My hope is to create a culturally-appropriate program that utilizes alternative educational methods such as popular education and pictograms. The Ambassadors for the 2017-2018 year were selected and announced on October 31st, 2017. They are originally from Russia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am excited to begin working with them and create a sustainable program design guide Oregon Food Bank will be able to use and iterate upon for years to come.

Hunger Fellow Erica McCoy (4th from left, with red hat) recruiting potential Seed to Supper Ambassadors in Portland, OR.

Jamila Cervantes

My mom was washing dishes when I told her the details of my placement. After a lot of teasing about me getting cold in 80 degree weather, she asked me what I would be doing in Portland, Oregon. At the time, I was unsure about what I would be doing at Oregon Food Bank (OFB). I hadn’t yet figured out other logistics either—I hadn’t met my field site partner, I didn’t know where I would be living, and I had no conception of what my time there would look like. “A lot,” I sighed, in attempt to pretend that I had it all figured out. I didn’t expect to be right, but I was! While here, I have worked to understand issues of equity and also to navigate new spaces.

To understand the nature of my project, it is essential to understand a little bit about my placement site. Oregon Food Bank is a nonprofit organization that works with identified partner agencies to distribute food to individuals. Most individuals, then, who access the services of Oregon Food Bank have a stronger relationship with partner agencies than with OFB.

My project attempts to bridge the gap between those individuals and OFB to build client-driven service. It involves assessing past and current client engagement efforts at Oregon Food Bank, identifying successful external and internal models for client engagement, and constructing a model for client engagement that works best for my organization. A regular day for me can include volunteering at our partner agencies; interviewing internal stakeholders; reaching out to people doing engagement work in both the food banking world and outside of it; and finally and most importantly, speaking to clients accessing our services. I’m hoping to understand what intentional and meaningful engagement looks like for our clients and the ways that our external equity work (and specifically this project) might merge with the internal equity work being done at OFB. At the end of my time at this site, I hope to produce a deliverable that includes recommendations about best practices in regards to engaging with people facing food insecurity.

This project means a lot to me. I realize the necessity of having a client voice in the work that anti-hunger/anti-poverty organizations are doing, especially as someone who experienced food insecurity throughout my life. I don’t imagine society ending hunger without actively involving those experiencing hunger in our problem solving processes. I’m hoping not only to create models for feedback loops between the people being served and the organization, but to create models that ensure that clients remain the center of anti-hunger work.

It’s been easy adjusting to my work site and I can only attribute that to the amazing individuals who work at Oregon Food Bank. People have created a culture at the workplace where it’s easy to ask questions, take initiative, and be your authentic self. The comfort I feel at work has also helped me adjust to my new (temporary) home.

Portland is vastly different from everywhere else that I’ve lived—culturally and otherwise. I grew up in a low-income community in Southeast Los Angeles, where the majority of people identify as Latinx1. We primarily spoke Spanish in my household and it was common to hear Spanish being spoken in public spheres. That’s not the case in Portland. The weather is also different. All that teasing my mom did was not without reason—it is cold up here! Despite cultural and climatic differences, my transition has smooth, thanks to my field site partner, family, and friends. Their support has been vital and has made Portland feel like a home to me, despite being different anything I’ve ever known. I’m excited to keep exploring Oregon in the ways that I have been doing. I also hope to create memories and learn lessons that I can take back home after the fellowship is over—especially so that when I’m asked what I did here, I can answer with more than just, “a lot.”

1 gender inclusive alternative for Latino/a.

Hunger Fellows Erica McCoy (right) and Jamila Cervantes (center) with OFB Equity and Inclusion Coordinator Malcolm Hoover at the Closing the Hunger Gap Conference, September 2017.

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About the Authors

McCoy headshot

Erica McCoy

Emerson Fellow

Hailing from Carthage, Mississippi, Erica graduated from Stanford University in 2017 with a degree in earth systems with a concentration in sustainable food and agriculture and a minor in art practice. She is passionate about issues surrounding food systems including sustainability and food justice. While at Stanford, Erica explored these issues through course work as well as internships. In 2015, she was a summer farm intern in Tuscany, Italy, with the Spannocchia Foundation where she was able to observe a sustainable food system in practice in another country. Erica also participated in the FEED Collaborative Innovation Fellowship through the Stanford Haas Center for Public Service. During her fellowship, she worked with the Stanford FEED Collaborative and Sage Center to help San Mateo County, CA, create a vision for a local food and farm bill.

Cervantes headshot

Jamila Cervantes

Emerson Fellow

Originally from Los Angeles, California, Jamila graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a combined degree in LGBT studies, Latin American studies, and sociology. While at Berkeley, Jamila proudly served as the co-director for Project Pueblo, an organization that aided local communities in the Bennett Freeze region of the Diné Reservation in implementing sustainable infrastructure projects. They also interned at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm, a community-managed food system attempting to address food insecurity among both students and community members. Since graduating, Jamila has focused much of their efforts in mentoring high school youth, most recently as a Sisters of South Los Angeles (SoSLA) mentor and Student Success Agency (SSA) agent.

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