Innovative Partnership Supports Local Business and People Experiencing Homelessness during Coronavirus Crisis

A new partnership between two East Portland nonprofits, local restaurants and the City of Portland is using a strategic approach to feed people in shelters and support struggling businesses during the economic crisis created by the coronavirus. The City is providing program funding through Prosper Portland, The Rosewood Initiative is channeling funds to struggling local restaurants in East Portland that are strapped for business during COVID-19. Participating restaurants, Nelly’s Taqueria and Chai Thai, prepare hot, delicious meals delivered to two Human Solutions shelters. Program organizers hope to find additional resources in the community to expand this win-win effort. 

Human Solutions and The Rosewood Initiative are community-based organizations working in East Multnomah County to address the root causes of poverty and build vibrant communities where everyone can thrive. The Rosewood Initiative is a place-based nonprofit that supports community-driven solutions for a healthier, more economically vibrant  Rosewood neighborhood. Human Solutions is a 31-year-old community organization that develops affordable housing and operates shelters and a range of programming to ensure all community members have economic and housing security.

Leaders at The Rosewood Initiative and Human Solutions saw an opportunity to collaborate and meet multiple community needs in this unique moment where restaurants are struggling to survive due to the COVID shutdown and emergency shelters are stretched to meet their ongoing need for warm meals.

Human Solutions Executive Director Andy Miller is thrilled with the results – and the sense of community:

This is how community responds in a crisis – through innovative partnerships. Prosper Portland stepped in quickly to do what they do best – supporting local small business to keep them working, The Rosewood Initiative did their part by recruiting local minority-owned restaurants they already partner with and Human Solutions was able to relieve some of the stress on our courageous shelter teams and make sure our shelter guests had plenty of delicious food.  There is nothing more powerful than our community working in partnership for the greater good.

How Does the Partnership Work?

With $24,000 in funding from Prosper Portland, whose mission is to build an equitable economy, The Rosewood Initiative has contracted with two small, family-owned restaurants in the Rosewood neighborhood of East Portland, Nelly’s Taqueria and Chai Thai. They, in turn, prepare dinner weekly for the residents of Human Solutions’ two emergency shelters, Lilac Meadows for families and the Gresham Women’s Shelter. On a typical night, about 220 people eat dinner in these shelters. With Governor Brown’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order for restaurants to offer only takeout, many restaurants have had to close and may not survive – hardest hit are often family owned restaurants in less prosperous areas like East Portland. Receiving $5.50 for 180 meals each week adds up for these small businesses! Right now, the effort costs $8,000/month for 1,450 meals; each restaurant earns $4,000 each month. Volunteer drivers transport the food from the restaurants to both shelters in time for dinner.

Two priorities were working with business owners or color, who often face greater barriers to capital, and focusing on East Portland, where restaurants depend on a clientele with less disposable income for dining out, especially right now.

Simple Enough. But How Is It Going? 

Oscar of Nelly’s Taqueria is happy for the opportunity:

Nelly’s Taqueria is really grateful to have gotten the opportunity to work with Rosewood on such a great program to cater to the homeless community. Thanks to this we are able to keep our doors open and continue to grow and continue to serve food for people. Gracias.

The Rosewood Initiative says the two restaurants providing meals for two months is just a start; if they can bring in more funding for the project, they can include more eateries or extend over time.

Staff from Human Solutions’ emergency shelters say the program is a game changer. Tamara Holloway, who manages Human Solutions’ Lilac Meadows Family Shelter near SE 82nd & Powell Blvd., says:

Our shelter team is doing amazing frontline work right now during the COVID pandemic. When a hot, ready-to-serve dinner is delivered by a volunteer driver from a local restaurant, our staff and shelter residents feel cared for by our community. We couldn’t be more grateful for this delicious food and all the donations we have been getting from everyone in our incredible community. Thanks to each and every one of you. We are for sure stronger together.

Expanding the Partnership with Community Investment

Now the teams at Human Solutions and The Rosewood Initiative are looking to grow the program by inviting the community to invest so they can feed more vulnerable people and support more local businesses. They’ve started a GoFundMe campaign where people can contribute to this win-win community effort. Your money will go far:

  • $250 provides dinner for 50 women experiencing homelessness
  • $25 provides dinner for a family
  • $10 provides two meals

Executive Director of The Rosewood Initiative, Jenny Glass, is pleased to still fulfill their mission to support the neighborhood when their community space doors are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic:

The Rosewood community in East Portland is strong and resilient, but there is no denying that the residents and businesses in this area were struggling even before COVID-19. This pandemic and the necessary economic shutdown deepens the hardships faced by communities of color, people with low-incomes and neighborhoods that have been under-resourced for decades. We’re honored to play a small part in supporting local businesses owned by people of color and houseless folks in our community during this challenging time.