The Marys River Gleaners' facilities in Pioneer Park in Corvallis were tagged with racist graffiti last week, and police say they are investigating.
The graffiti said “get out” and contained a racial slur likely targeting coordinator Cookie Johnson, an African-American woman who has been with the group since 2004 and has served in her current role since 2007.
Johnson has long been a pillar of the Corvallis group, which provides food and other resources to people in need. She won the 2015 Hunger Buster Volunteer of the Year Award from the Oregon Food Bank.
Johnson described the incident as “heartbreaking” but said she has no plans to stop dedicating her time to the community.
“The color of my skin is black, and I’ve been going through this for years,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen a lot, heard a lot, been through a lot. I do this because I love doing this. … I love helping people.”
The Marys River Gleaners are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that feeds members and gives them resources like firewood, while also giving members an opportunity to volunteer.
Johnson was returning to the gleaners facilities in Pioneer Park last Thursday with a load of food when another volunteer noticed the vandalism.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said of racism, adding she was raised to see people as human beings regardless of their race.
The incident has been weighing on Johnson, but she said her pain will pass. Johnson said if she could, she’d go on a vacation right now, adding that it's been five years since she last took a break from her work with the gleaners.
“I’ve had four surgeries in the past two years, and they were major surgeries, but I was so worried about being there to make sure that everybody got what they needed," she said. "They’d tell me to stay in bed for a week or stay at home for a week, and I’d be back out there within two days.”
Johnson said the other gleaners are very angry about the incident, but she’s been telling them all the same thing: Pray for the person who wrote that.
“God takes care of fools and babies,” Johnson said. “Whoever wrote that must’ve been a fool up there, because I’ve never turned anyone away.”
Corvallis police said they could not comment on the investigation, but said they hope for a “speedy and successful conclusion.” Johnson said they have been in touch with her multiple times.
K. Rambo can be contacted at 541-812-6091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter via @k_rambo_.