Fr. John Henderson directs traffic in the busy lot at St. Anthony Parish in Tigard July 13 as church volunteers hand out federal coronavirus food aid. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Fr. John Henderson directs traffic in the busy lot at St. Anthony Parish in Tigard July 13 as church volunteers hand out federal coronavirus food aid. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
TIGARD — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on July 13 saw how a local business and Catholic parishes join efforts to serve hundreds of needy people with efficiency and kindness.

“You’re really good at this. You should be in charge of the entire federal government,” Wyden told Pauline Petterson, one of scores of volunteers from St. Anthony Parish here who handed out federal food aid on a warm, breezy Monday afternoon.

The boxes arrived at the parish in a refrigerated truck sent by Pacific Coast Fruit Company, a wholesaler that received the federal contract to get food to needy people all over the region.

As Wyden hefted 25-pound boxes into the trunks of cars, Father John Henderson chatted up visitors, waved his arms to direct traffic and loaded dozens of boxes himself.

“What you are seeing now is not about politics,” said Wyden, wearing a face mask and a University of Oregon ball cap. “It’s about the Oregon way. We have so many Oregonians hurting.”

The federal Farm to Family program, enacted unanimously by Congress and the Trump administration at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, pays farmers to produce food that in turn gets handed out to people who have lost jobs or have trouble getting to the grocery store.

It’s a federal project that really works, said Carmen Gaston, director of the Office of Stewardship and Development for the Archdiocese of Portland. It was Gaston’s friendship with the leaders of Pacific Coast Fruit that led to many Catholic parishes becoming distribution centers on short notice.

“They have been amazing partners,” Gaston said of parishes.

It’s likely that the food box program will extend to the end of the year.

Looking on with joy was Nancy Brugato, vice president of Pacific Coast Fruit, which her parents founded in 1977. With two small crucifixes around her neck, Brugato is a proud member of St. Anthony Parish. She attended the parish school before going on to La Salle Prep and then University of Portland, a Catholic education triple play.

The Farms to Families program is being seen as a blessing to the company. The sequence of events makes Brugato shake her head in disbelieving gratitude. She calls the program a “Hail Mary,” that saved the day in a lot of ways.

“We could bring back furloughed workers, hire even more people, keep farmers working, and most importantly, feed people,” she said. “It really makes sense. I just wish we could get even more food to give.”

Brugato said she has been praying to her late parents, Emil and Kathleen Nemarnik, to intercede in heaven for the success of the program. Emil came to the United States from Croatia at age 10. A graduate of Central Catholic and the University of Portland, he and wife Kathleen founded Pacific Coast Fruit in 1977. Emil died in 2015 and Kathleen in 2019.

The latest food box distribution sites and locations can be found at evangelization.archdpdx.org/usda-food-box.