The Willamette Valley is an agriculturally rich region. And yet, people living here often go hungry.
To gain a deeper understanding of the problem and possible solutions, seven Willamette University students embarked on a semester-long project through a class offered by anthropology professor Joyce Millen.
On April 30, they will share their findings through a two-hour presentation in the Paulus Lecture Hall (Room 201) at the Willamette University College of Law. The free event begins at 7 p.m.
“One in five families don’t have enough to eat,” says Nick Mead ’15, an anthropology major. “But there are a lot of solutions out there. There are people who are so inspirational and who want to make a difference.”
Investigating the Problem
The students who took part in the project were Mead; Elizabeth Lawson ’14 and Surabhi Mahajan ’14, both biology majors; Maxine Steed-Elliott ’14, anthropology major; Nina Kulander ’14, Spanish and history major; Veronica Ewers ’16, anthropology and Spanish major; and Taylor Ottomano ’14, anthropology and biology major.
For their research, the students investigated how hunger affects various communities within the region — ranging from children and the elderly to the disabled and migrant workers. Their work took them to homeless shelters, food banks, schools and service agencies.
“I was aware of the problem, but it became more real when I talked to people about it,” says Ottomano, who interviewed migrant workers. “They are spending all day picking foods that they can’t afford to put on their own tables. That was a huge realization.”
Although greater access to better paying jobs, affordable housing and government resources emerged as ideal ways to address food insecurity, Mead and Ottomano say everyone can help in smaller ways.
These solutions range from developing community gardens to pooling resources among organizations with the same mission. Volunteers could also help job seekers prepare for interviews.
Marie Olsen ’12, project coordinator for the Marion-Polk Food Share, is optimistic the students’ findings will make a difference. She helped advise the group during the project and plans to use a recording of the April 30 presentation to aid social service agencies.
“It’s challenging to keep information on this problem relevant,” Olsen says, adding that research papers often get stacked on a shelf. “I want to leverage the voices of the people we are serving and let their experiences be the story.”
Millen says the students’ work surpassed all of her expectations, and she believes the final presentation will be of great interest to the community.
“I wanted my students to be exposed to the problems, but it’s gone way beyond that,” she says. “They care. They see the problem, and they know they can be a part of the solution. This research is so valuable.”