In 2009, Montecucco Farms co-owners and brothers Brian and Jason Montecucco donated 25 tons of beets, or 5 percent of the annual yield; here, Brian holds a few pounds’ worth of a recent harvest. “It’s simple,” says Jason. “People need food. We have it. We give away what we can’t sell. And while it may not be good enough for the market, it’s good. It’s what we eat at home.”

Image: Daniel Root

Brian Montecucco and Nina Diouf typically arrive at their jobs before the sun’s first rays appear. And though they live just 28 miles apart, they might as well be on different sides of the planet. Montecucco deploys the workers on his family farm on the Willamette River as Diouf stirs up the first of the 225 meals served each day at Sisters of the Road in Portland’s Old Town. Yet the two are linked by a sprawling statewide food chain designed and built by the Oregon Food Bank.

With its 108,000-square-foot North Portland warehouse serving as the command center, the Oregon Food Bank is a vast web of relationships: 935 hunger relief agencies and 20 regional food banks spread across the entire state, all supplied by supermarket chains, food wholesalers, and nearly 200 growers. In 2009, the bank delivered 785,569 food boxes (each includes enough food for 40 home-cooked meals) and provided most of the ingredients for 3.8 million emergency meals served in places like Sisters of the Road.

In many states, multiple food banks compete and overlap with one another, but the Oregon Food Bank is a streamlined delivery system that’s been able to respond to the region’s escalating need for food with stunning efficiency and breadth. Even though total cash donations shrank by 23 percent over 2009, the number of individual contributions grew by nearly 18 percent. Volunteer hours rose to 93,000—the equivalent of 45 full-time employees and $1.5 million in salaries.

So look around and give thanks. Although 6.6 percent of the state’s households regularly experience hunger (Oregon is second only to Mississippi in need), we are blessed with a dedicated network of farmers and volunteers who work with the Oregon Food Bank to ease some of that hunger.

This photo essay continues in our web-exclusive slideshow Bank On It