Focus on Youth Finds Joy on Sunflower Farm

Focus on Youth Finds Joy on Sunflower Farm

Portland, OR. The Sunflower Farm, an organic garden hosted by the nonprofit Focus on Youth, has expanded exponentially this summer, despite losing the support of its houseless youth volunteers. Founder Donna Lee Holmes said she was amazed at the willingness of the community to support one another during these tough times. 

“It’s like a miracle happened,” she said. “We have had more volunteers this year than we have ever had, and it’s because people wanna channel their love and energy into something positive.” 

The organization is still looking for volunteers who want a chance to connect with nature and like-minded people while they dig in the dirt. Volunteers say it’s a great place to learn something new every day. Morgan, pictured above, has been working hard on the garden since March. 

This recent expansion didn’t come for free. Holmes said that at the beginning of the pandemic, the Templeton Foundation reached out with an offer to change what funding the nonprofit applied for. Since no youth volunteers were coming in, Focus on Youth decided to focus on the garden. 

Selene is a volunteer at the Sunflower Farm. She started working there to get more involved with the community.

The Sunflower Farm donates its produce to the Neighborhood House and recently started donating to St. Anthony’s Church as well. Lines at food pantries have been long during the pandemic, so the extra produce is needed. Sunflower Farm is also home to 35 chickens, most of which were adopted recently to provide a good source of protein to people in need. The organization is hoping to donate over 9000 eggs by the end of the year. One thing they lack is egg cartons for transport; donations of these are appreciated. 

The farm is home to lots of chickens.

Holmes hopes the farm will attract more young children and families in the coming months, as working at the garden is a tactile educational experience. This hands-on learning is even more needed as classrooms go online. “It’s as if you’re being immersed into a science book,” Holmes said. “I’d like as many children as possible to have that experience.” 

A small watermelon growing at the farm.

The farm is home to a plethora of flower, vegetable, and tree species, many chickens, a resident dog, mason bees, an impressive amount of compost, and a pond where salamanders and small fish can be found. 

Focus on Youth recently applied for funding to start a greenhouse so volunteers can save money by nurturing their own seedlings during the winter rather than buying them. And in a continuation of the farm’s expansion, they’ve also recently planted their first-ever batch of fall vegetables. Holmes hopes the flourishing of the garden will not only bring the community together but bring hope to all who are currently struggling.  

The Sunflower Farm has many of its namesake flowers.

“What a garden represents is hope, and we all need that right now … There’s so much worry and concern about staying safe, about having food,” she said. “There’s something that’s very spiritual about digging in the earth and knowing that you’re being of service to others, there’s a certain peace that comes with that, and just a quiet joy.” 

A garden is a place where all people can come together, regardless of background. The foundation of Focus on Youth is in photography and gardening, but also in cooking. 

“We all need to feel that we belong somewhere, and a garden is someplace where everybody can come,” Holmes said. “Whatever background someone is, we all join in food, and food is love.”

From Focus on Youth: Focus on Youth and our program Seeds of Hope teaches sustainable gardening and photography to at-risk and homeless youth at Sunflower Farm. Learn more on the nonprofit’s website:

SnowCap Community Charities Raises a Record $94,000 to Help Hungry People

SnowCap Community Charities Raises a Record $94,000 to Help Hungry People

Portland, February 9th, 2013.  A capacity crowd of more than 300 supporters turned out for the SnowCap Community Charities 11th annual Valentine’s benefit. Solen and Jeremy Wilebski considered a game of Texas Hold ‘Em against  past auction chair Tom Weldon, but folded. (Photo credit, LeeAnn Gauthier) Supporters donated a record $94,000 to help SnowCap provide food boxes to 8,000 needy people, per-month, in east Multnomah County. The need for assistance has doubled over the past few years.

Kirsten Wageman(L to R) coordinated SnowCap's 11th Annual Valentine’s Dinner Auction at the Holiday Inn Portland-Airport on February 9th. She thanked all the supportive volunteer cashiers including Debra Robertson and Rhonda Rowan (shown) who assisted ringing up a record breaking $94,000 for SnowCap to provide food boxes to 8,000 people per month in east Multnomah County.

Kirsten Wageman coordinated SnowCap’s event and thanked volunteer cashiers Debra Robertson and Rhonda Rowan. (Photo credit, LeeAnn Gauthier)

SnowCap Executive Director Judy Alley attributed the boost over 2012’s $63,000 to a $10 increase in ticket prices and, “an incredibly generous donation from Old Chicago Restaurants’ CraftWorks Foundation of $15,500.” Alley explained, “We were seeking $15,000 to pour new foundation slabs for the warehouse expansion and we received sufficient funds to get that project started right away.” She also credited a final donation of $1,600 from longtime SnowCap supporter Alyson Huntting. SnowCap is expanding its warehouse to meet increased food box demand from needy individuals and families in the east Portland area. Communities served by SnowCap include Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village, Fairview and Parkrose.

Business partners like Vestas Americas make soup kits, candy bags for stocking stuffers, and raised $1600 dollars for Snowcap over the holidays.

Business partners like Vestas Americas make soup kits, candy bags for stocking stuffers, and raised $1600 dollars for Snowcap over the holidays.

“Our numbers grew during the recession from 4,000 served each month to more than 8,000 currently,” Alley adds.  SnowCap provides a food pantry services at its location at S.E. Stark Street and 178th, and through a mobile food pantry that meets food needs at schools and low income apartment complexes. In addition, SnowCap provides heating assistance, a clothes closet and a community garden for low income people living in East County.

Major sponsors of the annual SnowCap fundraising event include Pacific Power, Alyson Huntting (cq), Portland General Electric, On Point Community Credit Union, Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, and Covenant  Presbyterian Church. Auctioneer JillMarie Wiles sold vacations, classes, restaurant dining, private dinner parties, golf outings and fishing trips at the Holiday Inn Portland-Airport event.

“We are thankful the community has stepped up to support needy families in this serious economic downturn,” Alleys says. “Many people are struggling with unemployment and underemployment. Many are finding their low wage jobs are not sufficient to feed a hungry family. New requests for assistance are made every day.”

Here’s more information about the history of SnowCap:

In the mid 1960’s, the basic life needs of many in East Multnomah County were not being met by any agency or organization. About 25 area churches stepped in to help fill the void felt by so many residents. SnowCap — Suburban Neighborhoods Operation Witness Community Action Program — was born on January 16, 1967.

The purpose of SnowCap was to discover the real needs in the area, communicate them, and assist residents, church and community leaders to meet those needs individually and cooperatively. The organization adopted a philosophy that “SnowCap will cross lines of race, religion, national origin, and economic status, hoping to coordinate and act as a barometer, correcting conditions which call for improvement.”

The area covered by SnowCap was bounded by East 82nd Street, the Columbia River, and the Clackamas County line — including Troutdale, Fairview, and Wood Village.

Originally three centers were set up. Rev. Wendall Jacobsen, pastor of Epiphany Lutheran was overall coordinator. SnowCap — the church-community action program of the Greater Portland Council of Churches — was born.

The three centers merged in 1968 and headquartered at Savage Memorial Presbyterian. SnowCap was run entirely by volunteers until 1969 when Sister Gemma Kennedy was voted in as full-time director. She was released indefinitely from her teaching assignment with the Franciscan Order, and served until 1979 when Jenny Steward became Director.

In 1977 SnowCap had opened a Gresham office located at Trinity Lutheran which provided only food and informational/referral services.

By 1980 there were 39 actively participating churches. SnowCap gave away $86,400 worth of food and fed 12,350 people. Doug Rogers became Director in 1981.

By 1983 SnowCap was serving 36,000 people. Requests for help increased 155% over 1981, the last “normal” year on record.

In 1987 SnowCap celebrated its 20th anniversary, had 145 volunteers, one-full-time worker and 7 part-time workers.

In 1991 Judy Alley became Director. SnowCap’s budget of approximately $200,000 included two full-time staff members and three workers on token stipends. 200 volunteers worked for SnowCap. Over 58,000 people were fed and half of those were children.

On SnowCap’s 25th anniversary in 1992, more than one-half million people had been served by SnowCap.

By the 40th Anniversary 1.4 million people had been served. SnowCap had a staff of 7 and a budget of $500,000. New programs included English language instruction, community gardens, and home delivered food boxes for seniors.