Over the past several months THE BEE has written about the work of the Woodstock Pantry at All Saints Episcopal Church and the food pantry at Holy Family Church in Eastmoreland. Both distribute food weekly to those who are food insecure.
Two Woodstock residents who are doctors have been volunteering with another food pantry in Southeast Portland which has begun to distribute "made-to-order" food boxes.
Every Tuesday Dr. Mary Frazel and Dr. Lowell Chodosh drive from Woodstock to the Open Bible Church Community Pantry (POBC Pantry) on 92nd Avenue just north of Powell Boulevard. Dr. Frazel is the main Tuesday coordinator for packing the 150 boxes that are distributed on Wednesday. Other volunteer coordinators work on Thursday to prepare boxes for Friday's distribution.
Dr. Frazel and Dr. Chodosh are hoping to spread the word about the POBC Pantry's innovative method of food distribution, so that it might be considered by other food pantries in Inner Southeast Portland. They tell THE BEE they've seen how it gives people only what they want and need, and therefore reduces food waste.
Betty Brown, a former nurse and the wife of Pastor Jim Brown at Open Bible Church, is executive director of the POBC Pantry. She says she started the food pantry after the church had several break-ins, and the only thing stolen each time was food from the refrigerator. Electronics and other valuables were untouched. "I figured it was better to create a food pantry than to keep having to call the police," she says wryly.
Betty's comprehensive vision, hard work, and commitment to the multi-racial community of her church, inspire many. "I'm honored to know Betty," remarks Dr. Frazel. "She is a bright ray of sunshine, and a visionary person."
The made-to-order box system is made possible by the technological skills of the Brown's 32 year-old son Aaron. He and a friend work weekly to streamline a system in which orders can be placed online in English, Russian, Cantonese, Ukrainian, Spanish, Vietnamese, and a couple of East African languages.
"We have translators on-site that can speak Russian, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and Cantonese. When it comes to processing orders in different languages, we have the selections translated automatically through our [computer] system," explains Aaron.
"The foods available are listed online, and If families don't have an Internet connection or a computer, it is usually not a problem because many immigrant households have two or three generations living together, and the younger family members with cell phones can help the older ones by signing up for assistance, and choosing which foods are best for their household," remarks Aaron. If a household has no Internet access they can order by phone.
Because households are listed on the roster in alphabetical order, when they drive up, walk up, or come in a wheelchair, their number placement on the roster can be called out and a volunteer can quickly fetch the appropriately-numbered, made-to-order box or bag from inside the church gym, and carry it to the vehicle.
"Not having pork in a box for a Muslim family, but including it for a Chinese household, is an example of the choices recipients can make," comments Aaron. "And some people don't need, or can't tolerate, lactose – and therefore don't want a gallon of milk."
Mark Feuerborn, Manager of the Woodstock New Seasons Market, is on the Board of Directors of POBC Pantry, because Betty recognized and needed both his expertise in organizing food supplies and his experience working with the Oregon Food Bank.
Betty points to the deeper value of made-to-order boxes. "We believe choice is really important for families. No one expected to ever have to line up in a food line. We want people to feel special and important." Technology is an organizational tool for them, but Betty underlines the need for willing hands to help out. "We are always looking for volunteers, and are humbled by the fact that these two physicians are helping us." During March the pantry served 1,053 households, totaling 3,291 individuals.
Dr. Chodosh says, "All the people that make this happen have an incredible willingness and desire to help and learn, which I feel is a real blessing to be a part of."
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