The multiple crises of 2020 have shone a light on critical gaps in our government’s social service system.
Faced with skyrocketing unemployment, an overwhelmed health care system, and catastrophic wildfires, many Oregonians have had to forfeit groceries to pay for rent, childcare, medical bills, or other essential needs. Researchers at Oregon State University estimated that, between September 2019 and May 2020, the total number of Oregonians experiencing or likely to soon experience food insecurity had doubled to at least 900,000—more than one in five residents. Seven months later, and there’s no obvious sign that this level of need has decreased. In fact, service providers are only expecting Oregonian’s food needs to increase as the state’s eviction moratorium lifts in early 2021, a move that could push many still-jobless Oregonians into homelessness.
But this year’s crises have also spurred an extraordinary level of local community organizing to support neighbors without a reliable source of food. Mutual aid groups first created to reinforce racial justice protests have pivoted to distributing hot meals to houseless camps, while traditional soup kitchens have adapted to serving to-go meals, and Oregon Food Bank volunteers spend afternoons loading boxes of food into the trunks of people’s cars at drive-up stations.
The diversity of programs makes it extra easy for Portlanders to contribute time, funds, and food to those without this winter. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite long-standing and new services offering hot meals and pantry staples to anyone in need:
Potluck in the Park has been serving Portlanders free hot meals each week for nearly 30 years. The volunteer-run group has recently relocated to the parking lot adjacent to the Pacific Northwest College of Art, where they hand out premade “grab ‘n go” meals at noon every Sunday. Find out more about donating homemade or pre-packaged foods, volunteering, or picking up a meal yourself at potluckinthepark.org.
Sisters of the Road is Portland’s most long-serving, unique, and affordable dining halls for locals. While Sisters offers a variety of support for houseless Portlanders, it’s best known for its NW Portland cafe, where neighbors can get a tasty, healthy meal for under $4—or for work trade. Sisters has temporarily shuttered its indoor dining area during COVID-19, but is handing out entirely free to-go meals from Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to noon. Donate (to expand their limited hours) and learn more at sistersoftheroad.org.
Blanchet House dishes up an impressive 1,200 homemade meals a day from its Northwest Portland hub. During the pandemic, the nonprofit has been handing out its three free daily meals in lunch bags or to-go containers, with some meals being dispersed at other homeless service centers. Blanchet House is also known for its food rescue program, where it collects excess fresh, unexpired food from restaurants, groceries, and home kitchens. By keeping food out of the landfill and onto the plates of those in need, it’s a clear win-win. Find the meal schedule and volunteer options at blanchethouse.org.
The People’s Store is one of the new mutual aid projects that sprung out of this year’s racial justice protests. Volunteers serve hot food (recently, homemade tamales!) and to-go snacks from a box van they park at houseless camps and other gathering spots for people in need. The store on wheels also offers free first aid supplies, clothing, health care items, and other handy goods. Track the People’s Store schedule and sign up to volunteer at linktr.ee/peoplesstorepdx.
Oregon Food Bank has always been the region’s one-stop-shop for fresh produce, healthy staples, and non-perishables for folks unable to afford a grocery run. The nonprofit has only increased its offerings during the pandemic, with new pick-up spots across town for free food boxes and expanded outreach to food insecure households. But with sky-high demand this winter, the Oregon Food Bank also needs your support. Find a location to donate your time, food, or money at oregonfoodbank.org.
Feed the Mass is a nonprofit that offers affordable cooking classes and provides free meals to those without. Individuals are allowed up to three pre-packed to-go meals per day (and families of three are allowed up to nine meals) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Sign up to receive free meals or volunteer in the kitchen at feedthemass.org/fed.
Rose Haven is a day shelter and community center specifically serving women, children, and gender nonconforming Portlanders. The Northwest Portland nonprofit has been serving free to-go meals to its visitors during the pandemic, among other essential services to the community it serves. Find out more about Rose Haven’s food services or how to volunteer time and resources at rosehaven.org.
Free Hot Soup made headlines last year after the City of Portland tried to keep the volunteer-led program from serving weeknight meals in Director’s Park. Free Hot Soup took the city to court, won, and is back out at the Downtown Portland park on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays at 6 pm serving meals during the pandemic. Help expand services hours with a monetary donation—or pitch in to cook and serve a meal through facebook.com/groups/FreeHotSoup.
Beacon PDX is best known for running “Hard Times Supper” in the basement of Sunnyside Church, until the new building owners kicked them out in 2019. Superhuman/lead chef Pat Schwiebert has kept the program alive through pop-up food distribution services in Southeast Portland parks. Beacon PDX is currently looking for volunteers to make sack lunches to distribute to Portlanders living outside—and will pick them up straight from your porch! Pitch in at beaconpdx.org/volunteer.
St. Francis Dining Hall is a thriving community hub for Southeast Portland’s homeless community. St. Francis is currently sharing to-go meals six days of week with its visitors to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its bustling dining hall. Donate to St. Francis’ service at stfrancispdx.org.
Clackamas Service Center is home to a breadth of critical services for houseless and low-income residents living in East Portland, Gresham, and surrounding communities. The nonprofit offers food boxes (delivery on request!) and to-go meals six days a week for anyone in need. Pick up a meal, request a delivery, or volunteer resources at cscoregon.org.