In 2005, Portlander Tracy Oseran heard an NPR story about food waste that sparked her to look for a local initiative working in that area: redistributing unsold restaurant and grocery food to people in need. Failing to find it, she started her own, and Urban Gleaners was born. “Our first pickup was three Glad plastic containers from Bluehour,” she recalls. “That’s how it started.”
Now her organization collects some 65,000 pounds of food every month from restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses, and delivers it to school pantries and through the organization’s mobile markets—vans that go to low-income-housing communities on a weekly basis. “We estimate that we’re getting food to around 6,000 people a week,” she says.
Many of those people get food through Urban Gleaners’ food-to-schools program, which, she says, “at this point is 80 percent of what we do.” The organization serves 25 schools, delivering to pantries on-site, where families choose their own food, which includes fresh produce, dairy, and precooked food from the likes of New Seasons, the Moda Center, and Nike. “We bring it back to our warehouse, repackage it into to-go containers, we label it, and we send it out,” she says.
All this is done by a staff of eight, and a roster of some 60 volunteers. With a waitlist of schools eager to sign up for their services and a planned expansion into Washington County, Urban Gleaners is looking to sign on more donors to keep up with the demand. After all, says Oseran: “If we can’t feed kids and give them a decent start in life, then we’re sunk.”
What you can do: Urban Gleaners needs food, volunteers, and funding. Sign up online.
Portland Monthly examines hunger in Oregon in our March, April, and May issues. Want to help local organizations feed Portlanders? Go here.