Tigard-grown hunger activist Allison Burke was crowned Miss Oregon last month in Seaside, a moment the tenacious 27-year-old called a “complete shock.”
Burke, who will go on to represent Oregon in the Miss America competition, works as a state operations manager in Senator Jeff Merkley’s office where “every day is different, but generally speaking (she) oversees the senators work within the state,” she said.
Wearing the Miss Oregon crown had been a longstanding dream that started with her initial attempt at age 18, shortly after she graduated from Tigard High School. After competing five times and finishing runner-up twice, Burke laid the dream to rest.
“I had aged out, and this dream had been closed. I was no longer eligible for Miss America,” she said. “Then Miss America raised the age limit by two years, which aged me in this past year and allowed me to compete. I think a lot about the timing of things. I’m just grateful to have this opportunity. I know it’s one that a lot of young women strive for.”
Burke says it was a combination of scholarship money – she earned $12,000 for the recent win – and the skills she’s gained by participating that kept her coming back year after year.
“I could see how much growth I was experiencing every year, even without winning the title,” she said. “When I first competed, I was 18, I had never spoken in public before.”
Though she may have been new to public speaking at that time, she was no stranger to advocacy and leadership.
As a high school student, Burke served as president of the Tigard Youth Advisory Committee, which she credits with sparking her interest in fighting hunger.
“One of the things we learned when we were speaking with school administrators was that there were a high number of food-insecure students,” she said. “Over the weekends and holidays, a lot of kids were going home and not necessarily knowing where their next meal was coming from because they didn’t have access to school lunch or breakfast.”
In response, she and the advisory committee launched a backpack project to send kids home with meals.
She continued the work as a Portland State University student, lobbying on Capitol Hill with the non-profit organization Feeding America and eventually pursuing an internship with Merkley.
“Every Miss America has a social cause,” she said. “Mine is Hunger-Free Oregon. It’s fighting hunger together through awareness, charity, and legislation.”
She’ll continue fighting hunger while she polishes her violin skills for the talent portion and shops for a Miss America contest wardrobe. The competition’s date and location have yet to be announced.
Along the way, she’ll make appearances around the state as Miss Oregon and work toward growing the scholarship funds for young women who compete.
“To be able to represent Tigard at Miss America is so special to me,” she said. “I want to use this opportunity to give back to Tigard as well. If there are any events or people who want Miss Oregon to be there, I’m always happy to take those calls. I want to give back to the community that grew me into the woman I am today.”
Burke can be reached at email@example.com.