Turkey. Potatoes. Cookies. Gumbo. Macaroni and cheese. Family recipes passed down through generations. Comfort foods like these are often staples of holiday gatherings. But for those who struggle with food insecurity, holidays do not bring much comfort.
Random Acts Legal Advisor Vivien Lyon decided to do something about this in their own community. With the help of funding from Random Acts, Vivien donated nutritious food items to Portland Free Fridge. Also known as PDX Free Fridge, the organization works to make food and essentials more accessible throughout Portland, Oregon.
A mutual aid effort, PDX Free Fridge is run completely by volunteers. The group provides resources and information for anyone to build and maintain a free fridge or pantry in their own neighborhood. Anyone is welcome to use the free fridges and pantries. But they primarily help unhoused populations, many living in tent camps or makeshift shelters.
When Vivien reached out to PDX Free Fridge, they learned that a lot of donations are pantry staples and “ingredient” type foods like rice, butter, flour, etc. But those most in need of access to food often do not have access to kitchens. Fresh produce and healthy ready-to-eat foods are also more difficult to obtain.
Because of this, Vivien decided to donate items that do not require kitchen access. They brought fruit, yogurt, muffins, ready-to-eat salads, sandwiches, and other prepared foods to multiple locations.
A Community Initiative
Since Portland has such a large unhoused population, the fridges get emptied soon after donations are dropped off. And there are often more people lined up waiting for the next donation. After dropping their donations off, Vivien spoke with some community members waiting in line.
“It’s clear that a lot of people really rely on these fridges,” Vivien said.
The fridges and pantries are hosted and run by neighbors, creating opportunities for community involvement. Anyone can donate items and help with upkeep. When someone sets up a new fridge or pantry, PDX Free Fridge offers support and adds the location to their map.
On Thanksgiving, Vivien spent most of the day delivering ready-to-eat meals to five fridges. But they were left with a desire to do more. Before the December holidays, they dropped off even more food to free fridges. This time, they delivered to fridges and pantries in Portland neighborhoods farther southeast.
These neighborhoods have larger unhoused populations than most areas of the city. This leads to a greater need for food banks and other assistance. But the inequity in southeast Portland has even deeper roots. Many immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized groups live in these neighborhoods.
Much of Portland is built on unceded Indigenous lands. Gentrification and other systemic policies have led to the displacement of Native American families. Genocide, relocation, and cultural assimilation have proven long-lasting effects on those experiencing food insecurity.
PDX Free Fridge acknowledges these disparities by supporting BIPOC communities. Volunteers have the option to build free fridges and pantries with their own resources. Or they can do so through PDX Free Fridge, who will hire BIPOC builders and artists.
PDX Free Fridge encourages neighbors to help neighbors everywhere. Although their network of independent fridges and pantries is in Portland, their resources are available to anyone in any city.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
During their act of kindness, Vivien learned more about their community and enjoyed helping their neighbors.
“It was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve had in the last decade, honestly,” Vivien said.
With help from Random Acts, Vivien was able to provide holiday meals to people who otherwise might not have eaten much, if at all.
“It felt good to spend time during the holidays helping other people in a concrete way,” said Vivien. “I think we can all benefit from knowing how poverty impacts our neighbors, and understand that the effort to help people around us is always worth it.”