Hungry to end starvation? Meet Taylor Johnson

When Taylor Johnson first read a fact sheet about hunger in Oregon, he began talking with state agencies and local groups that work to eradicate the problem. On Monday night, he got a chance to take action.

When Taylor Johnson first read a fact sheet about hunger in Oregon, he began talking with state agencies and local groups that work to eradicate the problem.

On Monday night, he got a chance to take action.

Johnson, an economics major, took his first step toward action by hosting the Hunger Action Forum, held Monday at the Spiritual Life Center on campus. The forum brought together members of Portland’s spiritual community and groups devoted to fighting hunger, including the Oregon Food Bank (OFB) and Bread for the World.

“It’s very disconcerting to realize that hunger isn’t just something facing third-world countries that most of us will never visit or live in,” Johnson said. “Hunger is here, in our backyard, and it’s essential that we do more than just talk about it like someone else will solve the problem.”

Portland State Campus Minister Carol Joy Brendlinger co-hosted the event with Johnson, whom she said she was impressed by when he approached her about the forum. The two are associated through the Growing Roots student group, which focuses on spirituality at PSU.

“He came to me and said that he’s heard plenty of talk about the issue of hunger, but that he feels not near enough action is taken to address hunger. The chance to get something done by bringing people who can make a difference together is great,” Brendlinger said about the forum.

At the hunger forum, Johnson and eight other people from political, spiritual and academic backgrounds discussed the causes of hunger and possible solutions. According to the OFB, 192,000 people in Oregon receive emergency food boxes each month, and soup kitchens and shelters serve 4 million people each year.

Hunger in Oregon

Johnson said hunger is caused by a few different factors such as low income and a lack of jobs in Oregon. The OFB states that 78 percent of Oregon homes report incomes below the federal poverty line, and 29 percent of adults searching for jobs do not have a phone, while 27 percent do not own a car.

The OFB operates a statewide network of 919 hunger-relief agencies that handles 55.8 million pounds of food annually, and its volunteers donated more than 1.5 million hours of service, equating to 763 full-time workers.

At the Hunger Action Forum, Robin Stephenson represented Bread for the World, a national Christian network that addresses poverty issues. She said her group is dedicated to recruiting people to join their efforts by getting involved with lawmakers and lobbyists connected to hunger issues.

“When we focus on hunger, we call every Christian we know and tell them that hunger is wrong and urge them to write to Congress members, write letters to editors in the media and do what they can to make people aware,” she said. “Voice is a very powerful thing.”

Calling attention to hunger issues

Brendlinger said she feels one reason hunger is so prevalent is that few people discuss the issue or take action to feed the hungry. She said she hopes to hold events similar to the Hunger Action Forum in the future and help distribute materials detailing how many people suffer from hunger.

Johnson said he wants to make the forum a regular event and hopes that it will grow over time. He said he feels there are plenty of resources available to solve hunger and that applying them is a matter of awareness.

“I think the only reason hunger is an issue at all is because people don’t realize that it’s so real,” he said. “If no one realizes that there’s a problem, then no one works to solve it. There needs to be more conversations about hunger, especially among universities like PSU, and then things will start to get better.”

Andrew Becvar, a PSU economics student, said he shares Johnson’s optimism that hunger issues can be resolved.

“I’m very interested in looking at hunger and considering what can be done,” he said, “because it’s very possible to make a difference if people, especially students, are aware of what’s happening.”