Oregon food banks use websites to make it easier for people to find food

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The need for food is so great that the Oregon Food Bank is shipping out food as fast as it comes in. Empty shelves within the Northeast Portland distribution center is evidence of that.

“It is scary to me knowing how many of our neighbors are facing food assistance,” said Susannah Morgan, CEO of the Oregon Food Bank. “We are going through the highest rates of hunger that this country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression, since the 1930s.”

More than 1.5 million people sought food assistance last year, a 50% increase from before the pandemic, Morgan said.

“Pre-pandemic, we were serving about 860,000 people a year. 2020 was 1.7 million, 2021 it went down again thanks to government intervention to 1.2 (million) and 2022 it went up again— thanks to inflation.” Morgan said.

 In 2020, to meet that growing need and help save people time searching for food, the Oregon Food Bank created the Food Finder website. The website uses Google Maps technology that can be used in 14 different languages.

“It will show me what’s near to me, I can click on it. I can find where the hours are and it will even bring me to a map page and show me how to get there,” Morgan said.

Of the 1,400 different food banks and pantries on the list is the Portland Open Bible Community Pantry on Southeast 92nd Avenue in Portland’s Hazelwood neighborhood.

The pantry opened eight years ago after the Portland Open Bible Church experienced three break-ins.

“After really looking at it, we realized the person or peoples— were coming to take or break in were only going to our refrigerators to take food,” said Betty Brown, executive director of the pantry.

Brown said that first year, they served 545 people, this past year they served over 61,000. The lines can sometimes stretch out the parking lot.

To alleviate some of the congestion in their line and to create distance during the pandemic, the pantry created an online ordering system where people can pick the food that meets their dietary or cultural needs and then drive up to the church to have that order placed in the back of their car.

“I’m disabled so I have a hard time going grocery shopping,” Rachel Holcomb said as groceries were being loaded into her car. “A lot of times because I’m disabled we don’t have the money to go grocery shopping and this is just perfect for us.”

It’s also perfect for the thousands who use their site and the food finder website at the Oregon Food Bank.

Morgan, the Oregon Food Bank’s CEO, said as more and more people were getting smart phones, creating the site just made sense.

“Ten years ago, 15 years ago— people who needed food assistance might not have had a smart phone or access to a computer, so this was a congruence between the tools and the access to the tools on the part of the people who can use them,” Morgan said.

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