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Every year, Camp Fire youth engage in service-learning connections with their community, working together to identify social problems as well as creative solutions.

For Harrison Park Camp Fire students, one area of growing concern was the lack of access to healthy food options in their neighborhood.

These types of areas, called “food deserts,” are defined by the US Department of Agriculture as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”

Students aren’t the only ones who’ve taken notice – the Oregonian has also focused on the growth of Portland-area food deserts, especially in East Portland, where Harrison Park students live.

With this information in mind, the middle schoolers decided to focus on the issue of food insecurity in their community for their 2016 service-learning project. They started with a walking tour of the neighborhood around their school, taking note of the area’s needs and strengths in regards to nutritious meals and snack options. Hoping to gain a broader perspective about the problem, the youth’s second step was to interview teachers and staff members at Harrison Park about their observations.

“Over the course of their service-learning project, my students became more aware of how many people in their local neighborhood face food insecurity daily, and that many of Harrison Park families live in a food desert,” said Alex Jacinto, Camp Fire Site Manager at Harrison Park Middle School.

After their exploration, the youth decided to take matters into their own hands, and began volunteering at St. Francis Dining Hall, where they served dinner two consecutive days to people in need. The Camp Fire youth also volunteered at Harrison Park Food Pantry on a bi-weekly basis for two months, setting up food for families to pick up.

Finally, the students partnered with Outgrowing Hunger to secure two beds in the school’s community garden where they planted lettuce, spinach, kale, and radishes. Throughout the month of April, the middle schoolers tended to the garden while continuing to learn more about why their project mattered.

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They wrapped up their efforts by harvesting the veggies and donating them to the final Harrison Park Food Pantry of the school year.

“I’m so proud of the work they did to find solutions to help with this growing dilemma facing so many in their community,” Alex said.

 

 

Check out their harvest video: