In Portland, there are a number of mutual aid groups and nonprofits that deliver food to people around the city. Meals on Wheels focuses on seniors. Milk Crate Kitchen delivers to food-insecure populations. Equitable Giving Circle prioritizes BIPOC families. Now, a mutual aid project from a local food access nonprofit is specifically serving another community: Trans Portlanders, specifically those healing after gender-affirming surgery.
Meals On Us, a mutual aid nonprofit that distributes meals to community members, was founded by executive director and food cart alumnus Mark Guzman in 2020. Over the past two years, the nonprofit has gleaned food to make up to 4,000 meals weekly, which it distributes through PDX Free Fridge locations, organizations such as Operation Nightwatch and Rahab’s Sisters, and walk-ins (a program which is currently on pause due to funding). Initially a one-man operation out of Guzman’s home kitchen, the organization has grown to a staff of 15 employees, many of whom are members of the LGBTQ community.
At the beginning of 2022, the nonprofit quietly launched a program called Trans Meal Train, which provides no-contact food deliveries to folks who have recently undergone gender affirming surgery. In the wake of five LGBTQ people being killed at a nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado on November 20 — which was Trans Day of Remembrance — Meals On Us felt compelled to publicly announce the program, wanting to offer it to as many people as possible.
“Depending on the kind of surgery you’re getting, you won’t be able to walk around easily or lift your arms above your head, or even out level,” says Meals On Us community outreach coordinator Morgan Green. “[That’s] discouraged for the first few weeks of healing. So we were wondering, ‘What can we do that’s in our power with our resources to make this easier for people?’”
The goal of Trans Meal Train and Meals On Us at large is to get resources to marginalized people and people who are experiencing food insecurity. Trans people often experience other intersectionalities, such as being a person of color or a disabled person, that can act as barriers to accessing resources, Green says. The Human Rights Campaign’s 2021 Dismantling a Culture of Violence Report cites denials of opportunity such as employment discrimination, unequal policing, and barriers to legal identification as some of the factors that create a culture of violence toward transgender and non-binary people.
“We can talk about our experiences as queer people...we could make an Instagram post, but that’s not really putting our money where our mouths are,” Green says. “That’s not really creating change, and that’s not really addressing the systemic problems that trans people face. So when we’re talking about the best steps for our communities, something that would be a tangible change in someone’s life is feeding someone and filling that need. Not having to experience hunger is one of those base needs — everybody needs to eat.”
Meal recipients fill out a Google Form — on which they may use an alias, if preferred — and are asked basic questions such as preferred delivery time, how many meals are requested (just for the patient, plus a partner or caretaker if requested), and food allergies or preferences. Recipients are encouraged to set up a personal meal train through a third-party website such as Meal Train or Give in Kind. Friends and family have the opportunity to sign up to make meals, and Meals On Us will then fill in any gaps in the schedule.
In addition its Trans Meal Train and regular meal distribution programs, Meals On Us is also in the process of trying to become an emergency kitchen by seeking grants and funding to purchase a generator. The nonprofit’s commissary kitchen is located in the Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood, near the Fred Meyer where, in 2021, police officers stood guard in front of dumpsters full of discarded perishable food following a winter storm knocking the area’s power out. The incident struck a chord with the nonprofit as a gap in the food system.
“You’re just thinking, ‘Wow, if we could have just had our lights on, we could have been feeding this whole neighborhood,’” Green says. “So we’ve been in contact with the [Portland Bureau of Emergency Management] so we can essentially become an emergency kitchen and communicate with the neighborhood emergency teams.”