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Multnomah Village nonprofit rolls out first-ever electric and solar delivery vehicle

PHOTO COURTESY MEALS ON WHEELS PEOPLE - A new electric and solar-powered delivery van is used for Meals 4 Kids, a program run by Meals on Wheels People that feeds children in Portland who are food-insecure. The van is the first of its kind in the nation used by MOWP.Meals on Wheels People is now using green energy to deliver thousands of meals to Portland families.

Thanks to a grant from Portland General Electric, the nonprofit—headquartered in Southwest Portland—was able to retrofit a Ford Transit van with an electric engine and solar-powered refrigeration unit. The electric van is the first of its kind in the nation and has already been on the road for several months.

"It was close to a year of development to design the van," Jessica Morris, chief people and strategy officer for Meals on Wheels People, said by phone. With a $315,000 grant from PGE, Meals on Wheels People partnered with Lightning eMotors in Colorado to transform the van into a carbon-neutral, meal delivery machine.

The nonprofit organization has been delivering meals to homebound seniors since 1970, but about seven years ago, the group got funds from the Portland Children's Levy to serve children whose parents or caregivers make 185% or less of the federal poverty level. The new van is used to deliver food as part of a program called Meals 4 Kids.

"A lot of our families lack transportation," Morris said. "They may lack the ability (to drive) or have a child or caregiver in the home who has a chronic illness."

Being able to deliver meals to people in need is key in keeping the community fed, Morris noted, and being able to do it with zero emissions is a priority for the organization.

"Sustainability is part of our corporate culture and Meals on Wheels People is committed to reducing its impact on the environment," said Suzanne Washington, CEO of Meals on Wheels People. "Converting to electric vehicles is just one step in our Green Initiative and helped us earn a spot on the list of 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon."

In 2020, Meals on Wheels People delivered 276,000 meals to children and their families, according to the org.

Most of the meals are distributed by volunteers in Portland's Southeast and Northeast neighborhoods, where the greatest concentration of need is. The van can fit roughly 4,500 meals at a time.

A solar panel and 12-volt battery pack keep the van's refrigeration unit running.

"The van gives us the ability to load multiple routes in and meet our volunteers on the east side," Morris added.

The grant is part of PGE's Drive Change Fund, which is supported by the Department of Environmental Quality's Clean Fuels Program. To date, Meals on Wheels has been able to buy two electric vehicles and install EV charging stations at its headquarters in Multnomah Village.


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