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Shuttered Portland Restaurants Are Putting Their Untouched Food to Good Use at a Local Housing Program

Several Portland restaurants are working to help the community with donations to Home Forward

A Matt’s BBQ meal kit for Home Forward
Adam Kachman/Official

Despite a growing list of closures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and measures to contain it — which have shuttered every dining room in the city, leading to a rapidly expanding unemployment crisis and a very uncertain future — some Portland restaurants are still finding ways to support the local community.

Home Forward, a local non-profit that provides subsidized housing to low- or no-income people, with an emphasis on helping seniors, people exiting long-term homelessness, and people with disabilities, normally offers food to its residents through onsite pantries. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, however, there has been a disruption to its donation-powered food supply chain. As Home Forward looks to build new programs to keep its residents fed, a number of Portland restaurants have stepped up to help, including Thai barbecue hotspot Eem, Italian staple Renata, Indonesian bistro Gado Gado, barbecue cart Matt’s BBQ, and Extracto Coffee Roasters.

As food supplies as Home Forward dwindled, community services program manager Melissa Arnold shared her concerns with a friend Ashley Hook, the event and retail manager for salt purveyor and event space Jacobsen Salt. Hook and her boyfriend, Adam Kachman of Eem, realized they had food that needed to be disposed of, and that other restaurants would as well, given the city-wide restaurant closures. So they reached out to places like Renata and Gado Gado, bringing in everything from pizzas to barbecue plates to curry bowls.

The three worked to assemble the donated food into meal kits, which they distributed to various housing complexes through the city. So far the team has provided over 500 meals. The program is not comprehensive, or permanent, as restaurants won’t be able to continue buying and preparing food that won’t be sold, but it’s been considerable help amidst the chaos.

“We’re doing our best to plan for the future,” Arnold says. “More than anything it was really touching that restaurants were experiencing their own crises, but they still wanted to help people. Seeing our community come together was really touching. Moving forward, donating non-perishable goods, produce, canned goods, and the like to local food banks and those kind of distribution centers would be best.”

The team is working with cautionary measures to avoid any contamination, and around 16 or so restaurants and stores have currently provided resources. For the time being, Home Forward will continue to accept donations from restaurants for as long as possible, or advise them where their donations would be best served. Hook and Kachman are asking any interested restaurants to reach out to them at Ashleyannhook@gmail.com or Kachman.a@gmail.com.

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