Monday, November 30, 2009

UO Students Enjoy Fruits of Their Labor

Hintze, H. Kezi.

EUGENE, Ore.-- In September, about ten freshmen from the University of Oregon participated in Project Tomato. They went to local farms and picked 900 pounds of tomatoes, then hand-processed each one to make pizza sauce.

This week, the Carson Dining Hall is celebrating "Farm to Table" where students and staff get to eat locally grown food. "I'm a big fan of the healthfood swing that we're moving to in our country and I think it's better when we use natural local products," says freshman AJ Gorton.

Project Tomato students finally get to eat the fruits of their labor--every pizza made this week will use the student's sauce. "I think it's really cool so many students are eating something I made and I love cooking, so it's awesome," says Ashley Anderson, who participated in the project.

The Carson Dining Chef Manager says staff make 144 pizzas each day. That's more than 2,300 slices!

Pet Talk: Portland's new pet food bank was decades in the making

Von Lunen, J. Oregon Live.

You don't build what might end up being the largest pet food bank in the country overnight. At least not if you're Larry Chusid. You build slowly, carefully, tuned in for signals that it's time to take the next step.

The Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank, a huge effort to help not just pets but also families in need that opens across from the Oregon Convention Center on Sunday, has been in the making for decades.

It started with two dogs tied to a shopping cart downtown some 30 years ago. Chusid, then a student at Portland State University, wanted to help the companions of a homeless man he always saw near campus and bought them a bag of dog food.

This gesture was not extraordinary for Chusid. For years, he made care packages of food and sundries and handed them out to those without shelter, helping however he could.

Meanwhile, he ran several successful businesses and had dogs of his own. The last, Pongo, died in October 2007.

Later that month, Chusid got the first signal to focus his charitable efforts. He noticed two dogs at a homeless campsite and stopped to ask their owners if they'd be OK for Thanksgiving. The people said they'd be fine, but none of the food pantries had pet food. Could Chusid get them food for the pups?

That's how the Pongo Fund started. Soon Chusid was handing out pet food to homeless owners all over town. Since that Thanksgiving two years ago, he estimates, he's given out more than 100,000 pet meals. That also helps the people, who would otherwise feed their own rations to the pets.

This year, Chusid got the next signal to move forward. He was getting pet food out of his car on a freezing day in January when a woman stopped.

"What are you doing?" she inquired.

"I'm feeding homeless pets," Chusid replied.

"No, you're not."

"Really? What am I doing then?"

"You're feeding the soul of a family," the woman replied.

She was a social worker on her way to check on a family in dire straits. About a month earlier, the parents had told their children that there just wasn't enough money to feed everyone, that they didn't want the dog to go hungry and that it would go to live with a family who could afford to feed it.

Now the woman was going to see the family because the children had become despondent -- and not just because their dog, and the emotional support it provided, was gone. The children thought they'd be next in line to go live somewhere else if money was tight again.

Chusid realized there was a whole population on the verge of homelessness that had never had to worry about hunger before.

"The people on the street, they know where they can get food," he says. "It's the people indoors, suffering silently, that don't know where to go."

In April, Chusid went to a pet-product trade show and happened to meet the owners of
Canidae Pet Foods, the California company that had supported the Pongo Fund from the start. He told them he had an idea for a pet food bank in Portland for people struggling to pay their bills who might give up their pets otherwise.

The Canidae people shocked Chusid by offering $125,000 worth of food on the spot. He had to tell them he wasn't ready yet.

He now needed a space, volunteers, grants and fundraisers. He needed to form a nonprofit organization. Hoping for tips on how to find free legal services for doing so, Chusid went to see
Alan Jensen, a high-powered tax attorney and partner at the law firm Holland & Knight with deep connections to Portland's animal community.

They talked and it turned out that Jensen used to see, out of his old office window, the same homeless man for whom Chusid had bought a bag of dog food 30 years earlier. Jensen particularly remembered the man feeding a dog part of a sandwich, which the dog spit out.

This encapsulated the lose-lose situation an increasing number of people are in: because of lack of pet food, the owner ends up with less to eat and the dog still doesn't get properly fed.

Chusid ended up getting a nationally renowned attorney to work for him for free. Then the Portland Development Commission provided space, and the Portland-based Hedinger Family Foundation got on board.

Now pallets upon pallets of pet food are sitting in a warehouse on Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard, ready for the doors to open. There are three semitrailers' worth of kibble and cans -- more pet food than you've ever seen.

The demand to meet that supply is there. The two other pet food banks in the Portland area -- both at least 15 miles from downtown -- have given out increasing amounts of food since they opened. In Sherwood, the
Cat Adoption Team's food bank, the larger and older of the two, gave out 2,500 pounds of cat food just in the past month. And people are coming from as far as Vancouver and Troutdale.

Local agencies are welcoming the new resource.
211info, a local call center that provides information about emergency food, shelter and health services to anyone who needs it, will now point clients with pets to the Pongo Fund.

"I was really thrilled to hear about Larry's project," says Susan Salisbury, a resource specialist with 211info. "We've been looking for a service like this for some time."

Even the state will send people to the Pongo Fund. Chusid told a local caseworker for the Oregon Department of Human Services about his plans a while ago. The caseworker asked her boss if she could tell her clients about the pet food bank. The answer was yes.

"When I heard about this I thought, 'What a great idea,' " says Gene Evans, a department spokesman. "When people hear food stamps don't cover pet food, they ask what they're supposed to do. Now caseworkers can point out this resource."

Chusid is ready for them now. He is planning on handing out eight tons of food a month. That's 16,000 pounds -- more than a thousand large bags of food. While no one compiles national statistics for this kind of thing, according to media reports from other cities, these numbers would make the Pongo Fund the largest pet food bank in the country.

Not that that matters.

"The numbers aren't the important thing," Chusid says in his self-effacing manner. He's a little uncomfortable being in the spotlight.

"For years only the homeless knew about me. Now I'm shining a light on this to say we all could help."

After-school Health Lesson is Succeeding

Achen, P. Mail Tribune.


Fifth-grader Mikaela Degrande used to think General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios was a relatively healthy choice for breakfast until she discovered a serving of the cereal has nine times more sugar than plain Cheerios.

Mikaela said she never thought about sugar content in her breakfast cereal until she began participating this fall in Be A Fit Kid, a free after-school program at Medford's Griffin Creek Elementary School.

Published studies from July 2008 by the program's founder, Jenny Slawta, in Health Promotion Practice show that program participants generally improve their body-fat composition, fitness, nutritional knowledge and dietary habits and reduce their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.Be A Fit Kid, a program of the Medford-based Healthy Kids Now nonprofit organization, provides students with after-school fitness activities and nutritional lessons in the form of noncompetitive games for about two hours twice a week at Griffin Creek and Jacksonville elementary schools.

Slawta, a Southern Oregon University associate professor of health, developed the program in 2002 in response to the national childhood obesity epidemic and local reductions in nutrition and physical fitness education at schools because of state budget cuts.

The number of obese children in the United States has nearly quadrupled in the past 30 years, driving up the rate of type 2 diabetes and heart disease in adolescents and young adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.

About 45 students attend the after-school program at Griffin Creek from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Slawta and SOU health and physical education students staff the program.

Last Wednesday, students ran on the track and jumped on benches, an activity meant to promote bone growth, played tunnel tag and did an obstacle course.

"We vary it so there is something new each time," said SOU senior Carolina Campbell.

"I like it," said fifth-grader Leiah Calice. "You get to play all these cool games and run on the track."

After the physical exercise, students go indoors to learn about nutrition. Slawta brought them a worksheet showing how many grams of sugar are in common breakfast cereals. One of the highest was Raisin Bran. However, Slawta cautioned, that's because of natural sugar content from raisins, which is not the kind of sugar consumers should be wary of. What children and their parents should limit is cereals that are high in processed sugar.

"You shouldn't eat that much sugar," Mikaela said, demonstrating some of her nutritional knowledge from the program. "You should only eat a little each day."

Students at Griffin Creek receive at least one 40-minute period of physical education per week, but teachers have the discretion to hold PE classes up to 40 minutes a day five times a week, said Principal Ginny Hicks.

Slawta recommends that children have at least 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day for optimal health. Adults should have at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise per day, defined as the exertion required for brisk walking, she said.

Slawta's curriculum also provides detailed nutritional information, including the benefits of certain kinds of food, and emphasizes a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and whole grains and low in saturated fat and sugar.

"It's better to eat fresh or frozen fruit than canned," said fifth-grader Taylor Stevens. Canned fruit loses nutrients during the heating process and often is stored in syrup, which escalates the sugar content.

"I find kids are extremely receptive to the nutritional component and very receptive to trying new foods," Slawta said.

In the past, she has brought foods such hummus, millet oat bran cereal and vegetable pizza with minimal cheese for children in the program to try, and the majority of them try the foods without much ado and enjoy the taste.

"You have to get out of the mind-set that a child's palate is different," Slawta said. "Some parents are more worried about their children eating than what they are eating. Children need to be accustomed to eating healthy when they're young."

She encourages kids to try a food several times before deciding they dislike it.

"It takes kids at least six times to start liking something," Slawta said.

Be A Fit Kid also supplies nutritional curriculum to teachers at nine schools in Jackson County for use during classes, including Medford's Oak Grove, Jackson, Kennedy, Wilson, Howard and Washington elementary schools, Central Point's Scenic Middle School, Phoenix Elementary School and Children of the Kingdom, a Waldorf preschool at Bigham Knoll in Jacksonville.

Student nurses from Oregon Health & Science University at the SOU campus teach the curriculum mostly during the school day, said Joan Smith, the students' OHSU clinical instructor.

Schools that offer federally funded free and reduced lunch programs, which include most public schools, are required to have a wellness policy on file. Teachers often don't have time to complete the nutritional instruction that goes along with that, so OHSU students are able to fill that gap, Smith said.

"My students and the elementary children are having a blast," Smith said.