Last summer, Ramona Peterson wanted to commemorate the passing of her husband on the 20th anniversary of his death.
At first, she and her current husband, Tom Peterson, thought about creating a soup kitchen to help out homeless individuals — or anyone who needs a leg up, for that matter — but they quickly determined a soup kitchen during the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't going to work.
"So we decided to do a pop-up food pantry," said Ramona Peterson. "Because it was July and I had a lot of flowers, I decided to use the flowers as a way of funding the pantry so it wouldn't have to come out of my pocket."
Soon they filled shelves and containers inside the tents in the front yard of their home on the corner of Southwest 65th Avenue and Oak Street in Tigard, just behind Buster's Texas-Style Barbecue on Highway 99W, with canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, drinks and more.
A short time later, Peterson got on Nextdoor, the neighborhood networking website, and advertised her Stone Soup Food Pantry — named for the popular story of hungry strangers all pitching in ingredients to make a meal.
"The premise of the story seemed perfect for what we were going to do," Peterson said.
Not long after they opened, people in need began dropping by the pantry.
"For the most part, we get people living in their cars that stop by," said Tom Peterson, a general contractor and cabinetmaker who once served in the U.S. Marine Corps. "We get people living in the camps by the freeway that stop by. It's across the board."
Recently, the Petersons added an adjacent pop-up tent next to their food tent, filling it with dry goods such as warm clothes and sleeping bags.
In the past, the Petersons have refilled propane tanks for homeless individuals and Tom recently went out and purchased 10 toilet seat buckets, the type people might bring on a camping trip. Those portable toilets include a free bag of kitty litter to keep the buckets sanitary.
While the Petersons may get a complaint about someone hanging around the neighborhood too long, that isn't very often.
"We discourage people from hanging out, just because it can be a nuisance for the neighbors," said Tom Peterson. "But they can pick up something up and eat it as they're heading down the road and get dinner at the same time."
Tom Peterson said his wife spends a lot of time cooking for the pantry, especially when they get large quantities of food from donors. That means generous helpings of coleslaw and potato salad. She makes soup almost daily, he said, and will often place the fresh items in containers so homeless individuals can take them for later.
So far, the community has shown they want to help out as well.
"I've got a lady who bakes bread — and she loves to bake bread — and when she has a day off, she makes these beautiful loaves of bread and brings them to us," said Ramona Peterson. "I have a lot of really nice people who are coming by and make a regular stop to drop things off."
Many read the notes of thanks the Petersons have taped to the tent walls.
With Thanksgiving coming up, Ramona Peterson said she hopes to cook up something to celebrate the holiday.
"I think we're going to cook up a couple of turkeys and put some turkey sandwiches or some TV dinners out," she said. "Some of the neighbors have already asked me what I'm going to do, so they want to do something special."
Tom Peterson said they are in need of any type of pop-top canned food products, such as pork and beans and spaghetti. Canned meats are popular, too, including sardines and tuna fish. Fruit is always welcome as well. In addition, there's a donation box on-site for those who want to help out.
While the stream of visitors ebbs and flows at times, Tom Peterson said it's generally pretty steady.
"We have a couple of (homeless) camps that everybody's keyed in that if it gets tough, they can get food here," he said.
Plans are to keep the pantry open as long as there's a need for it.
"The whole thing is just kind of surreal," said Tom Peterson, noting that he and Ramona never thought that they would find themselves in a position where they would need to help out like they do. "There's just so much need. It's heartbreaking."
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