Amid Unprecedented Strain on Portland Food Banks, a New Humanitarian Effort Is Here to Help
One of the country’s landmark humanitarian food aid programs is coming to Portland for the first time.
Washington, D.C.–based supernova chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, which has prepped more than 17 million meals in disaster-stricken countries worldwide, launches here on Tuesday, delivering 200 meals a day to Bienestar de la Familia, a community program in the Cully neighborhood that’s focused on outreach to the Latinx and Somali populations.
Organizer Erika Polmar says they hope to quickly ramp up to serve more communities. The goal is twofold: To put cooks back in the kitchen and to help feed the untold number of Oregonians who’ve pushed demand at local food banks and pantries to unprecedented levels.
Food comes courtesy of cooks from Independent Restaurant Concepts, the restaurant group that includes North 45, Circa 33, and Produce Row Cafe, among others. The company’s Culinary Director, Aaron Dionne, says he’s been trying to source culturally sensitive ingredients, like halal chicken and beef. Working with a skeleton crew of chefs from Produce Row, Satellite Tavern, and North 45, he’ll be kicking off the first week with a menu of chicken adobo with steamed rice, sided by sautéed cabbage and spinach with cumin and topped with a tomato, jalapeño and edamame relish.
“We are getting people back to work that really need it, as well as helping people feed themselves,” he says. “One of the things we can always provide is a meal. And it feels a little bit normal. Being with the guys in the kitchen today, it was nice to just have some momentum.”
Normally, World Central Kitchen requires an upfront commitment of $1 million to fund launch efforts in a new city, says Polmar, who is also the founder of Plate and Pitchfork, the table-to-the-farm dinner series that supports hunger relief efforts.
But for Portland, the organization waived that requirement, helped along by seed funding from two Willamette Valley wineries—Brooks Winery and Domaine Drouhin, which raised $10,000 in only an hour via an online auction of 50 cases of wines from its cellars.
The effort will add to restaurant aid efforts already up and running in Oregon, including Frontline Foods, a new national nonprofit that pays restaurants to make meals for medical workers and has worked with restaurants including Coquine and Toro Bravo, plus an ongoing effort coordinated by local nonprofit Stone Soup which works with Kachka, Lardo, and other restaurants to provide meals for homeless shelters.
“Agencies that are traditionally contacted for food relief, like the Oregon Food Bank and refugee organizations, have seen demand increase up to 60 percent,” Polmar says. “They don’t have the resources to fill all that need. World Central Kitchen helps fill that gap with food, while putting chefs back to work.”
She takes care to note that this isn’t a panacea for hard-hit Oregon restaurants; but it is a guarantee of sorts, of bulk orders that chefs and owners can count on, as opposed to the vagaries of the take-out market, where some chefs with cult followings can sell out in seconds, while others are trying their best to guesstimate how much food and personnel they’ll need to meet nightly takeout quotas. And it comes as Multnomah County prepares to move into phase one of Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening plans, with restaurants in Portland being encouraged to apply to expand outside seating for the summer season.