Since it arrived in Oregon in 2020, COVID-19 has impacted countless citizens, from those who have gotten sick to those who have lost work. The full impact remains unseen, and even with vaccination numbers rising, the situation is still dire: Hundreds of new cases in Multnomah County each day, debt skyrocketing among business owners and renters. The food industry — a huge facet of Portland’s identity, and the leading industry within the state — has struggled in particular, with restaurants and bars shut down for months, restaurant owners grappling with the decision to reopen, and cases still looming large.
With this new surge of unemployment over the last two years, food insecurity has spiked. Now, communities in Portland and beyond are finding ways to help through mutual aid Facebook groups, restaurant worker unemployment funds, pop-up kitchens serving free meals, and food rescues repurposing and redistributing potential food waste. Many of these groups have existed long before COVID-19, but their impact is particularly meaningful now.
With the community approaching two full years in crisis, some have felt powerless, unsure of how to help or where to donate. The guide below guide digs into the various charities, mutual aid groups, restaurant worker funds, and organizations fighting food insecurity and advocating for food service workers within Portland and other parts of Oregon.
Mutual Aid Groups
The structure of mutual aid generally focuses on spontaneous, fast-acting aid for those immediately in need. The structure of what that looks like is tenuous: In Signal chats, Google spreadsheets, and on Instagram pages, people gather and commit to making food, buying groceries and supplies, or providing financial aid to vulnerable communities. Some center around Facebook groups, where those in need can post a request for assistance and get the aid they need from fellow members. Generally, mutual aid groups aren’t centered around a particular nonprofit or public organization; rather, they’re autonomous collections of community members looking to help their neighbors and fellow humans. There are several groups specific to certain neighborhoods, but this list goes into larger groups in the Portland area and beyond:
Portland Free Fridge: This mutual aid project sets up covered refrigerators and pantries in different neighborhoods throughout Portland, where neighbors can drop off groceries, prepared meals, and basic household supplies for those in need. This map includes the full list of fridges and their cross-streets for those looking to drop off items, but people can also donate directly to the effort via Venmo.
Meals On US PDX: Throughout the week, this food-worker-run mutual aid group makes meals for people experiencing homelessness and food scarcity via a number of different aid organizations, from shelters and tent encampments to community organizations. People can donate directly to Meals On Us via Venmo.
Fires Igniting The Spirit: This mutual aid project specifically works with indigenous populations in Oregon and Washington, regularly raising money and accepting dry food donations to take to various communities and reservations — Warm Springs, in particular. People can donate directly via PayPal or Venmo.
Symbiosis Hub & Resource Exchange: Symbiosis, largely, is a group fighting for systemic changes that allow for self-organization, economic and political autonomy, and community-supported mutual aid. Its Hub and Resource Exchange, however, is one of the group’s many projects, dedicated to distributing hot food, groceries, hygiene supplies, and PPE to community members who need it. Every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 4 p.m., the group sets up at the Social Justice Action Center, both distributing goods and accepting physical donations; people can also donate money to the group here.
Crisis Kitchen: This mutual aid network offers up everything from kimchi to diapers for those who need it. The network has an online market for things on offer, but the group is also accepting monetary donations via the Venmo @CrisisKitchen or the group’s Patreon.
COVID-19 Portland Oregon Area Community Support: A mutual aid group centered around COVID-19 aid, this Facebook group does everything from helping people pay for food and rent and helping identify free food giveaways. Join the Facebook group for more information.
Team Beaverton: This mutual aid network generally serves the west Portland suburbs, providing meals, groceries, medical supplies, and more to those in need. Folks can join the Facebook group, call (971) 409-4313, or email TeamBeaverton@gmail.com.
Creating Conscious Communities with People Outside: Known as C(3)PO, this group of tent villages started at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis for houseless Portlanders, “prioritizing BIPOC, trans, gender-nonconforming, and queer people, disabled people, and people over 50 years old.” The space offers access to showers, toilets, hand-washing, health services, and meals, but the community space is actively seeking food and donations for its residents. People can also directly donate funds here.
Many organizations aren’t specifically seeking volunteers at the moment to respect social distancing guidelines. That being said, several organizations are putting people to work, cooking meals for food-insecure Oregonians, delivering food boxes to families in need, and even writing grants to secure more funding for the long haul. These are just a few of the organizations accepting volunteer applications:
Oregon Food Bank: The Oregon Food Bank, which feeds food-insecure communities around the state, offers a number of different volunteering opportunities — but slots fill up fast. Volunteers do everything from sorting canned food donations to setting up free food markets. Oregon Food Bank’s volunteer calendar includes a number of different opportunities, as well as volunteering opportunities at partner organizations like William Temple House.
Milk Crate Kitchen: This nonprofit prepares free meals for food-insecure families and delivers them around the greater Portland area. Milk Crate is currently looking for volunteers to help in the kitchen, deliver meals, and coordinate deliveries. Find the full list of open volunteer roles here.
Meals on Wheels People: Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to food-insecure seniors, is even more crucial now, when it is more dangerous for seniors to be in public spaces. Meals on Wheels People, which serves Multnomah, Washington, and Clark counties, is seeking everything from drivers to folks who can provide virtual wellness checks. Meals on Wheels is also seeking financial donations. Sign up to volunteer here.
PDX Concierge: Started by a Portland high school student, PDX Concierge provides a free grocery delivery service for seniors and the immunocompromised during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group serves communities around Oregon, and is accepting volunteers here. Those looking for grocery delivery can call 971-347-7778, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website.
Portland Free Fridge: People can just drop off food for those who need it at Portland Free Fridge, of course, but the group also looks for volunteers to build structures for the fridges to protect them from the weather, check on and clean out the fridges week to week, haul trash away from fridge sites, and track down food donors. Apply to volunteer here.
Store to Door: Like Meals on Wheels People, Store to Door delivers groceries to homebound seniors who are at even greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Store to Door is actively seeking shoppers, delivery drivers, and volunteers to take orders.
Rahab’s Sisters: This organization provides meals and hygiene supplies to women and gender-non-conforming people “marginalized by poverty, houselessness, sex work, violence and substance use.” The group is actively seeking volunteers to do everything from cook at home to distribute food in a socially distanced environment. Sign up here.
Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Food Rescue, and Food Pantries
The battle against hunger and food insecurity takes many forms: It involves saving potential food waste to be reused, distributing groceries to families who cannot afford them, making meals for those who need them, and actively fighting systemic inequalities that cause hunger and poverty in specific communities — especially communities of color. The groups below fight hunger in various ways — even supporting the farmers and producers who are struggling during the economic crisis. For a full list of food pantries and soup kitchens, check the Oregon Food Bank database.
Food Banks, Food Rescues, and Distribution Organizations
Oregon Food Bank: The state’s food bank collects and distributes food to pantries across the state and Clark County, Washington. People can make monetary donations, but the Oregon Food Bank isn’t currently accepting individual food donations.
Urban Gleaners: Urban Gleaners gathers donations from individuals, grocery stores, catering companies, and restaurants to help build meals for food-insecure families across the city. Make a monetary donation here, or drop off food at the warehouse from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. To schedule a food drop-off, email email@example.com or call (503) 226-8061.
Soup Kitchens, Pantries, and Shelters
Potluck in the Park: Every Sunday, a team of volunteers gather under the Hawthorne Bridge and distribute meals for those in need. It’s barrier-free, which means anyone can show up and collect food. Visit the donation page to provide financial aid.
Sisters of the Road: This community cafe normally runs on a barter system, offering a meal for either $1.50 or an equivalent amount of work for the cafe itself. However, considering the current state of the world, Sisters of the Road is currently serving free meals to those in need from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and accepting donations through its website.
Clackamas Service Center: This community center provides meals, groceries, and other services to the community of deep Southeast Portland and the surrounding suburbs. Make a donation here, or apply to volunteer.
Blanchet House: Blanchet House accepts donations to help fund its daily meals and shelter services. Make a donation here.
Community Organizations Providing Food Access
Equitable Giving Circle: Equitable Giving Circle takes donations to buy CSAs from farmers and producers of color, and then distributes those CSAs to families of color who are not currently being served by social service networks. Plus, EGC also provides a weekly free pantry for BIPOC Portlanders and delivers food boxes to families. People can donate directly to help support those farmers and also feed communities in need.
Feed’em Freedom Foundation: The nonprofit sector of the Black-owned farm Mudbone Grown donates fresh produce from the farm to low-income families, while also providing training and education to those interested in farming. Donations go to both supporting the farmers and farmworkers, as well as the food donations.
Growing Gardens: Growing Gardens helps low-income families install home gardens and provides mentoring programs for people to develop gardening skills. The organization also teaches gardening skills to kids and incarcerated Oregonians. Readers can donate here.
Black Food Sovereignty Coalition: This coalition of Black farmers, producers, and environmental activists are fighting for food sovereignty within Portland’s Black community, creating economic opportunities related to food justice. More specifically, the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition helps build networks of Black-owned businesses, provides mentorship opportunities for those interested in food justice, and helps Black communities in Portland develop regenerative, organic farming practices on shared farmland. Those interested can donate here, or donate directly to the coalition’s Black Futures Farm.
Don’t Shoot Portland: This social justice group, founded by longtime activist Teressa Raiford, fights against systemic discrimination through policy work, community advocacy, and educational workshops. The group’s feed-ins allow for community organizing, and the group also distributes food and clothing to marginalized families throughout Oregon and Washington. Make a donation here.
I Believe in Black Youth Leadership Fund: This fund, while primarily focused on creating a space for justice and leadership education for Black youth, is also developing a mutual aid fund for Black queer and trans Portlanders.
Worker and Restaurant Relief
Restaurant workers have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic, unable to open dining rooms for months and seeing dramatic drops in business. More than 125,000 restaurant workers have lost their jobs across the state, and that number is probably much higher. While many restaurants are running GoFundMes for their workers, there are several larger organizations helping feed and take care of unemployed restaurant workers:
Family Meal: Family Meal is a nonprofit that specifically helps food and agriculture workers who are experiencing a medical debt crisis. Considering many restaurant workers are living through a pandemic without health insurance, Family Meal is able to distribute funds directly to help those workers pay rent and get food on their table if people have lost work due to illness.
Oregon Worker Relief Fund: The Oregon Worker Relief Fund provides financial support to those who have lost work due to the pandemic but are ineligible for unemployment due to their immigration status. Donate to the fund here.
PCUN Farmworker Emergency Fund: Longstanding farmers’ rights group PCUN has been raising money for former and current undocumented farm workers affected by COVID-19, providing economic relief as a one-time payment. Donate here.
PDX Tip Jar: Portland’s virtual tip jar allows specific unemployed restaurant workers to seek tips directly, so people can donate directly to them. Tips are available through CashApp, Venmo, and Paypal.
Disclosure: Jagger Blaec assisted in the research for this project. Blaec is also an organizer behind the mutual aid project Beyond Black Boxes.
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at PDX@eater.com.