A unique partnership shared between Oregon Youth Authority and Woodburn's AWARE Food Bank reached its crescendo on June's final Tuesday morning.
A warm gathering was on hand in the food bank's main lobby as coordinators unpinned a plastic tarp on the wall to reveal a colorful mural. The artwork was a creative endeavor delivered after several months of Friday afternoons contributed by youth from MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn.
Among the event's attendees were State Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, Woodburn City Council President Robert Carney, Councilor Ali Swanson (a food bank volunteer) and a various other city officials who made the kitty-corner trek across First Street to take in the celebration.
The mayor provided refreshments to the score-plus in attendance from his recently opened Metropolis coffee shop, the Groove Café La Onda, which is located just up the street in the Metropolis building.
AWARE Coordinator Gabby Pena described the partnership with the MacLaren youth as an uplifting experience. She said the ultimate end product provides a cheery tone to a place that is not often visited under the rosiest circumstances.
The mural features greetings in multiple languages, including one Native American dialect.
Pena was able to meet and talk with the artists who worked on the mural, and she applauded the project as a creative outlet for those who truly appreciate such an opportunity. The project was overseen by Javier Perfecto, an OYA multicultural coordinator with the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations.
OYA Communications Manager Sarah Evans said Perfecto made the connection with the food bank. He also worked with Carlos Chavez of the nonprofit Morpheus Youth Project in seeing it to fruition.
Perfecto shared a hand written statement from Marco, one of the youth who worked on the project. Marco wrote: "It has been an honor to be part of this mural for the AWARE bank. It is great to know that I was able to collaborate with a great organization that does great work for the community.
"A helping had is what many people are afraid to ask for due to judgement, but it's comforting to know that an organization like this food bank is around to provide unconditional support to the citizens in need.
"It is a blessing that I was able to contribute to the community from the inside. If possible, I will continue to participate in future projects that continue to bring joy to the community."
Alonso Leon also expressed delight with the mural and praised the food bank for not only helping those with fundamental needs but also in engaging with projects like the mural to help youth and provide a brighter atmosphere for food bank clients.
"What a beautiful way to engage our youth," she said. "This is something that we can display proudly.
"There are going to be times in life when we all need a little help," she added, while praising the tactful and caring manner in which AWARE Food Bank has provided that help in the community. "This place has been an amazing resource."
Since the height of the pandemic, AWARE has provided more than 50,000 pounds of food for area residence.
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