The Portland Food Project

Our team here at Guild tries to find ways to give back to our wonderful Portland community, and one of my favorite organizations (and one that we’ve worked with several times) is the Portland Food Project. I chatted with Lorien and Mary, both members of the project’s steering committee, because I wanted to share more about this great organization. Find out how the Portland Food Project is making a difference to our city’s food insecure, and find out how you can easily make a difference yourself.

The Project’s Beginnings

Back in 2009, during the recession, a group of people in Ashland, Oregon, found out that the city’s food pantry had helped so many hungry people that it was empty. This group of neighbors got together and decided to do something about it, and the first neighborhood food project in the country began. This concept came to Portland a few years later when Lorien’s father moved to town.

Richard, a social worker, started the project in 2012. Initially, it was just in his southeast Portland neighborhood. When he began, there were just 15 donors. But his life’s work was helping people, and he was determined to make life better for those who are hungry. From those humble beginnings, the project’s come a long way—it now has nearly 13,000 active donors and covers the entire Portland metro area.

Founder Richard is second from left

How it Works

It’s actually a really simple concept. Donors receive green bags and fill them with non-perishable food. The Portland Food Project works with over 20 pantries and is kept apprised of specific needs. Donors are then given a list of these needs, but they can donate whatever they want to.

Neighborhood coordinators (there are currently 80) spend the second Saturday of every even month going to various homes, picking up bags full of food and dropping off empty bags. It really is that easy for donors.

The food is unloaded from the cars and sorted. It gets divided up to go to over 20 different food pantries. Pantries don’t get the same things or even the same amounts of food—bigger pantries get more food. So the unloading and sorting process takes some time.

Lorien and Mary emphasize that the Portland Food Project is separate from, and not in competition with, the Oregon Food Bank. The Portland Food Project supplies the smaller food pantries with consistent food since the Oregon Food Bank doesn’t always have enough food to fully stock them.

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How You Can Help

One of the biggest things the Portland Food Project needs is more volunteers. They have struggled with not having enough neighborhood coordinators. And even though it’s more of a time commitment that donating, it’s still around just five hours every two months. If this is something you’re able to, it would help them out a lot.

But if neighborhood coordinating isn’t something you can take on, don’t worry! There’s still a lot you can do to help. The project has a wide variety of things you can do—you can help unload or sort food, spread the word at events, or participate in other little volunteer opportunities. There is plenty you can do without being either a neighborhood coordinator or donor.

But of course, you can always donate food, and it’s very much needed. Despite the fact that the recession has ended, Portland is seeing an increase, not a decrease, in the need for food from food pantries. A large part of this is the burgeoning homeless population. The summer is an especially tough time for families who have to feed children who are home from school without an increase in money or food. Yet summertime food pantry donations are often slimmer than donations throughout the rest of the year.

Mary says that the goal is to have your work with the Portland Food Project be fun, easy, and rewarding, no matter how you’re involved. If your participation isn’t meeting those objectives, they will find another way for you to help. If you just want to try volunteering out, that’s fine, too. There’s never any pressure for commitment.

Mary mentioned a woman who is receiving food assistance herself, but she really wanted to help out. She takes a 90-minute bus ride each collection day to go help at the drop-off point for four hours. She’s not able to donate food herself, but she is able to contribute in a meaningful way. And that’s what the Portland Food Project is all about.

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The Future of the Portland Food Project

The Portland Food Project has high hopes for the future. They continue to expand at a steady pace and hope to be in the Beaverton area before too long. In the April pick up, the project received 13,740 pounds of food for 11,540 meals. That means that they’ve gotten 28,068 pounds of food and delivered 23,390 meals just this year. This is proof that people can make a difference to their neighbors in need—and we’re so grateful to the Portland Food Project for making a difference.

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