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, and communities in Portland and beyond have found 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 effectual 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 to help food service workers and fight food insecurity 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.
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.
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.
Snack Bloc: Snack Bloc focuses its hunger-fighting mission in protest spaces, providing meals, snacks, water, and supplies to protesters. But the group is also raising money to buy a food cart, to serve as a mobile pantry. 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 Prosperity Fund: The Black Prosperity Fund specifically calls on donations from non-Black donors redistributes resources for Black people in need. The group has distributed $6,000 so far, but the fund is actively seeking more donations to distribute. People can donate through PayPal to the fund.
Beyond Black Boxes: This group of BIPOC femmes specifically gathers funds to redistribute to Black femmes, women, trans, and nonbinary Portlanders. Those funds are then distributed to those in need. When the group isn’t fundraising, it signal-boosts other fundraisers for people of color in need.
Free Hot Soup Salem: Based in the Salem area, this Facebook group organizes food and aid delivery for unhoused residents around the city. People who join the group can make food, help distribute food, or even donate warm clothes and supplies.
Lane County Mutual Aid: In the Eugene area, Lane County Mutual Aid is centered around a Facebook group, where members can post specific requests for assistance. Those interested can join the group directly.
Many organizations aren’t specifically seeking volunteers at the moment, trying 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 on 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.
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 and mask donations. Sign up to volunteer here.
Blanchet House: This nonprofit, based in Northwest Portland, provides free meals daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Those interested in volunteering can sign up online.
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 cooking at home to distributing food in a socially distanced environment. Sign up here.
Hand Up Project: This organization, which specifically focuses on the unhoused community in Portland, offers volunteering opportunities related specifically to its shopping-style pantry, available both at St. Phillip the Deacon and the Q Center. Sign up to volunteer 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.
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.
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, food boxes, and other services to the community of deep Southeast Portland and the surrounding suburbs. Make a donation here.
Feed the Mass: Those who want to support Feed the Mass but are unavailable to cook can also make a financial donation.
Blanchet House: Blanchet House accepts donations to help fund its daily meals and shelter services. Make a donation here.
People’s Pantry: Connected to the Hand Up Project, the People’s Pantry is one of the only pantries available right now that is still using a shopping-based model, instead of a food box. 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 buy those CSA boxes 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, or reach out about volunteering opportunities.
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 mayoral candidate and 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 a dramatic drop 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:
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.
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 in 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.
In the Weeds: In the Weeds is a grassroots project, in which former restaurant workers buy produce and food directly from farmers and then distribute free boxes to unemployed workers. Make a donation through the GoFundMe.
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.
Frontline Foods PDX: The local chapter of a national organization, Frontline Foods pays restaurants to make meals to serve frontline workers during the COVID-19 crisis. The donations made to the organization help fund those large orders of meals, which end up at hospitals and testing sites around the city.
Disclosure: Jagger Blaec assisted in the research for this project. Blaec is also an organizer behind 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.