Since it arrived in Oregon in February, COVID-19 has impacted countless citizens, from those who have gotten sick to those who have lost work. The full impact remains unseen, but the situation is still dire: Thousands of cases in Multnomah County alone, tens of thousands of restaurant workers unemployed, 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, 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 in its sixth straight month of 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:
PDX Free Lunch Collective: Free Lunch Collective is a mutual aid hub, an autonomous group of individuals that builds sack lunches to deliver directly to tent encampments and communities of unhoused Portlanders throughout the metro area. Free Lunch Collective is seeking donations through the Venmo @freelunchcollective, and people can volunteer to prep meals, pack lunches, or distribute lunches by visiting the signup website.
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 like Right to Dream Too to organizations like Transition Projects. People can donate directly to Meals On US via Venmo or GoFundMe; the organization is also seeking perishable and non-perishable items, #1 eco-friendly folded disposable take-out containers, and eight-ounce takeout soup containers with lids.
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 6 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 and volunteers.
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.
Snack Bloc: Snack Bloc focuses its hunger-fighting mission in protest spaces, providing meals, snacks, water, and supplies to protesters. However, the group has expanded, providing aid to indigenous groups, those affected by the local fires, and others. Donate to the group’s venmo here.
Love Letters to Black Folks: Under the umbrella of celebrated pop-up, Black Feast, Love Letters to Black Folks is a mutual aid residency in which artists Salimatu Amabebe and Annika Hansteen-Izora give away care packages — complete with a dessert and a love letter — to Black residents. People can donate to the cause via the Venmo @BlackFeast or the CashApp $BlackFeast.
Black Sustainability Collective: The Black Sustainability Collective specifically calls on donations from non-Black donors and redistributes resources for Black people in need. The group has distributed thousands of dollars, but the fund is actively seeking more donations to distribute. People can donate through PayPal to the fund, or request funds through this form.
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:
Feed the Mass: Originally a free cooking school for families, this nonprofit has switched things up, now serving meals for hundreds throughout the week. Feed the Mass is looking for volunteers to help make meals Mondays through Saturdays, “neighborhood ambassadors” who can help deliver meals to different communities around the Portland area, and leadership roles within the organization. Sign up here.
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.
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 email@example.com, or visit the website.
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.
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, and track down food donors. Apply to volunteer here.
Crisis Kitchen: Crisis Kitchen is actively seeking volunteers to help with making free meals and delivering food to those who need it. Those interested in volunteering can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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: Normally, Urban Gleaners gathers donations from individuals, grocery stores, catering companies, and restaurants to help build meals for food-insecure families across the city. Currently, Urban Gleaners is distributing food at certain food box drop sites, and is also delivering directly to families. Make a monetary donation here, or drop off food at the warehouse from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. To schedule a food drop-off, email email@example.com.
Soup Kitchens, Pantries, and Shelters
Potluck in the Park: Every Sunday, a team of volunteers gather in Northwest Portland and distribute pre-packaged 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; the group is also seeking cloth mask donations.
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 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays through Saturdays, 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.
Feed the Mass: Those who want to support Feed the Mass but are unavailable to cook can also make a financial donation. Those financial donations are especially crucial now, as winter approaches; the group is trying to raise $300,000 to prepare.
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. People can donate directly to help support those farmers and also feed communities in need.
Mudbone Grown: This Black-owned farm, through its Solidarity Love Shares program, donates eight weeks of fresh produce from the farm to Black families. Donations go to both supporting Black farmers and farmworkers, while also paying for the Black families’ CSAs.
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. The goal is to serve at least 100 undocumented farmworker families. Donate here.
MESO Portland: Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon helps provide financial assistance and guidance for businesses that are dealing with the financial strain of gentrification and new development in historically Black neighborhoods. In the wake of COVID-19, MESO has been helping connect business owners with grants and loans to help them stay afloat. Donations can be made here.
Share the Bounty: Out in wine country, the The Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association and Yamhill Enrichment Society have created this fund to feed hospitality workers in the Willamette Valley who are out of work. Donations go to pay restaurants to make free meals, which people can reserve. Donate to the fund here.
Hospitality Help Fund: Organized by the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association’s foundation, the Oregon Hospitality Foundation, the Hospitality Help Fund specifically funds restaurants that are assisting the community in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
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.