Potluck in the Park – Portland, OR

Potluck Portland 13So there I was with a spoon full of salad in my hand and clients coming in faster than I could even say the menu options at hand. I love hearing stories. I thrive for stories. I was hoping to hear at least one story from a client in the food line, but serving at the first station and everyone reasonably hungry, I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone really. And then what always happens, happened. Those who did start to talk to me were so soft spoken that with my one working ear drum and a LOT of ambient background noise, I couldn’t make out a second word to put a sentence together. The lunch rush lasted about an hour and then the clean up began. It was through this clean up effort that I learned the story I was supposed to hear.

Potluck Portland 03The organization is Potluck in the Park. They have a big truck (shown above) and a van (as seen in the homepage image). And everything fits in these. Everything. The organization has been around since 1991 and is 100% non-profit. As in NO paid staff. At all. Everyone is a volunteer. And for 26 years they have been feeding the hungry in downtown Portland every Sunday from 3p – 4p, rain or shine. Herein lies the problem and the story that was critical for me to tell. Rain.

For the past 20 or so of those years Potluck in the Park has been in O’Bryant Square which has a parking garage underneath. In the rain, the organization would be able to relocate just below the park in the garage and distribute food per usual process. Now, one of the long time volunteers, Mary, told me that the city has been renovating  gentrifying the area around O’Bryant Square with parks immediately North and South of this one being given advantages as simple as power-washing. She told me the city wouldn’t even send their washers in to clean the park. With the recent renovations to surrounding areas, local residents were forced to move East of the River Willamette. Now, about 2 months ago in the summer, the city deemed the garage unusable due to crumbling concrete. I asked, “So what do you guys do when it rains?” Mary said, “I don’t know yet, we have to figure something out… soon.”Potluck Portland 18

My hands go up and look at you at this point. Do you believe the city in this situation? I peeked at the garage and even if I had a photo neither you or I would be able to make a determination like that off a photo. It did look pretty bad. But I can also see the city’s many motives for the decision. Gentrification: Good or bad. Where do you draw the line? I made a decision that evening as we were loading the truck back up. And it has to do with the following photo…Potluck Portland 19

If you’d like to read the rest of this post about what this ambulance told me about gentrification, how I got involved with the organization, or if you would simply like to help Potluck in the Park continue their service despite the seemingly uphill battle into the rainy season, make your donation below to support Potluck in the Park. To know more about my reader supported posts: click here.

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