No food left behind: PCC staff shuttle donations to community after freezers shut down
Strategic partnerships that benefit students and uplift the greater community are at the core of Portland Community College’s work. One area which has seen robust collaboration in recent years is the effort to address food insecurity.
Following last week’s winter storm, the college was able to quickly leverage those strong community partnerships when a refrigeration malfunction at the Sylvania Campus in Southwest Portland put 47 cases of food in jeopardy.
It all started on the afternoon of Feb. 16, when many throughout the metro area were still without power as the snow and ice that saturated the area the previous weekend began to slowly melt. During a routine inspection, PCC Public Safety officers discovered water on the floor of the Food Service office indicating a serious compressor malfunction that ultimately required three walk-in refrigerators and two freezers to be shut down.
Facilities Management Services and Food Service staff sprung into action to dry the area and, most importantly, find a home for the food before it spoiled. The following day, the Food Service team arranged for the Blanchet House, located in Downtown Portland, to pick up the cases of food — valued at over $1,500 — and ensure it reached those in need.
PCC Food and Vending Services Manager Jean Atkinson said the quick response was the result of the college’s work with multiple area food pantries over the past year to supply them with stock from across the district while PCC facilities have been closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We monitor our inventories on the campuses weekly and reach out to those organizations that we might possibly partner with,” Atkinson said. “We had reached out to the Blanchet House before, but this was the first time they had room in their freezer to accept a donation.”
Atkinson said it’s been a group effort across the district Food and Vending Services management team to get food in the hands of those who need it most. Cascade Campus manager Tony Clifford has taken the lead on the community outreach while Rock Creek Campus manager Darin Rose has monitored the quality of items to determine what needs to be donated next while the college cafeterias remain closed.
Despite food insecurity rates in Oregon more than doubling over the past year during the pandemic, Atkinson noted that it has not always been easy to find a home for PCC’s extra food supplies while adhering to Oregon Health Authority Food Safety Rules.
“Due to restaurants being shut down, there have been a lot of food service businesses looking to donate food,” she said. “As a result, we can only donate when partners have room at their facilities so that we can keep people safe.”
Atkinson said PCC has arranged another donation to the Blanchet House once it regains freezer capacity.
“We never want to see food go to waste,” Atkinson said. “It represents hard work on the part of many individuals, especially when there are people in need. To be able to donate what we cannot use at PCC to our communities has been a blessing during these times.”