[Episcopal News Service] When All Saints Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon, saw a need in its community for a new feeding ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of volunteers helped launch and run a makeshift food pantry, which supplemented the free hot meals that the congregation already served every Saturday. Now, the congregation is making a permanent investment in the pantry, with plans for a new building that will house the growing ministry.
It is known as the Woodstock Pantry, named for the church’s Portland neighborhood. After the start of the pandemic in March 2020, All Saints began operating the pantry out of a 30-foot shipping container that it converted into a food storage unit. Volunteers also used the church’s pews as a staging area to fill grocery bags. They distributed the bags in an alleyway next to the church to recipients waiting in their cars.
In those early days, about 100 people a week came for the food, much of it provided through All Saints’ partnership with the Oregon Food Bank. Since then, the demand has risen, and about 300 people a week now are served, according to the Rev. Andria Skornik, All Saints’ rector.
“We feel we’re called to do this,” Skornik told Episcopal News Service, and making the recipients feel welcome has been as important as providing them with healthy food. “A number of people really feel like the pantry is their community, and one person said, ‘This is my church,’ even though they don’t come to the worship services. They feel that they’re a part of it.”
Construction on the new building is expected to begin soon, and the congregation hopes it will be complete and ready for use by early 2024. The accessible 25-foot-square structure will have plenty of space to store the items delivered by the food bank and other community and commercial partners. Large awnings on two sides will shelter volunteers from rain or sun as they greet guests and give them the bags of food. As a finishing touch on the building, the congregation plans to hire an artist to create an eye-appealing mural on the wall that will face out to the neighborhood.
The project is estimated to cost $225,000. “We’re kind of in the home stretch trying to finish out the funding,” Skornik said. In addition to donations from the congregation’s 230 members, the project has received grant funding from the Episcopal Church in Western Oregon, as well as the Oregon Food Bank and Lowe’s, the home improvement retailer.
The efforts to turn the ministry into a reliable, sustainable food source come at a time of economic uncertainty for many in Portland and across the United States, particularly after the expiration earlier this year of several forms of increased federal benefits and protections enacted during the pandemic. It isn’t clear what direct effect that reduced support has had on the individuals and families who All Saints serves, though Skornik said the Woodstock Pantry saw an 87% increase in participating households this year from February to August.
Organizers of Woodstock Pantry also are prepared to step up their efforts if low-income households begin feeling a financial pinch from the looming federal government shutdown, which could freeze certain social safety net programs. A shutdown is poised to take effect Oct. 1 if congressional leaders fail to agree on a plan to continue funding all government operations into the new fiscal year.
There’s no risk of a shutdown at the Woodstock Pantry. More than 60 volunteers typically help distribute food from the pantry every Friday and Saturday, and 15-20 more help serve the church’s weekly hot meals.
“For not a very large congregation, the amount of impact they’re having in the community is incredible,” Skornik said. “They’re involved in the neighborhood, and also in being a community not just for worshipers but for other community members.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.