PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When a Portland police officer’s wife saw a homeless widow and her children living in squalor in Northeast Portland’s Sullivan’s Gulch in 1922, it set into motion an organization that continues to fulfill its mission a century later.
The Sunshine Division, which is no longer a division of the Portland Police Bureau, has been feeding hungry families in the Portland area for 100 years. But its birth is also connected to the rising popularity and use of cars.
In 1922 a police officer helped that mom with children living in a lean-to, said current Executive Director Kyle Camberg. “And then in 1923, actually a number of police officers were laid off to this new technology called the automobile.”
That’s when then-Mayor George Baker recruited volunteer civilians to serve in emergency situations. The civilian officers were eventually called the Portland Police Reserve.
“These reserves, these police officers and Mayor Baker at the time said, we should really do something around the Christmas holiday. So in Christmas of 1923, a number of police officers, reserves and city officials made sure that families in Goose Hollow got a basket of food on Christmas Eve, and that was our first home delivery,” Camberg said. “We kind of consider that really when the tradition became real.”
They became known as “George Baker’s Sunshine Boys” because they brought sunshine to all the families they visited. The Sunshine Division started on the second floor of East Precinct at SE 7th and Alder before moving into North Portland in 1975. It expanded beyond the holidays to include clothing and household items.
“We do function year-round,” said Sunshine Division Commander Bud Lewis years ago. “Our efforts, as I indicated to you, is a great deal more during the year.”
In the 1960s, Sunshine Division became a non-profit 501C-3 and no longer part of the PPB. But its law enforcement roots remain.
“Whether it was 1960, 1923 or today, a Sunshine Division food box still remains in a Portland Police precinct,” Camberg said. “Police officers still help us at the holidays.”
And they still provide sunshine to thousands of families in need.
The Sunshine Division now helps thousands of families in 5 counties, extending its reach well beyond the city of Portland.