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Hand Up Project, a Portland nonprofit that helps LGBTQ people with food assistance, seeks support

The Hand Up Project focuses on helping those who identify as LGBTQ+, whose need of food assistance is double that of other groups.

PORTLAND, Ore. — U.S. Census data shows LGBTQ households need food assistance at double the rate of other groups. More research suggests people of color who identify as LGBTQ+ have nearly three times the risk of poverty.

The Hand Up Project, a nonprofit partner with the Oregon Food Bank, focuses on serving LGBTQ+ communities, as a way to help those that may feel uncomfortable or unwelcome at a traditional food pantry.

"A lot of food services come through churches," said Mike Whittacker, executive director of the Hand Up Project. He said a lot of people who identify as LGBTQ+ don't feel comfortable or welcome asking for help from a food pantry operated by a church or religious organization.

The Hand Up Project gives people who identify as LGBTQ+ a chance to feel welcome in an accepting and loving environment.

"It just gives everybody a chance to feel community. And that's what a lot of our community misses because we've been kicked out. Myself included. I'm an Indiana transplant. I moved my husband in and suddenly we weren't acceptable," Whittacker said, choking back tears.

Credit: KGW

Whittaker said he left his Indiana church a decade ago, and then in 2016, he established The People's Pantry, which welcomes everyone but caters specifically to marginalized communities. Now, with donated space from the Q-Center, and two dozen volunteers, the pantry operates every Monday and Tuesday, as well as the fourth Saturday of every month.

"We create that space," said Cesar Augusto, a volunteer at The People's Pantry. "When someone feels small, out in the world when they’re riding the bus to get here, or an interaction when they leave these doors, they know they have a space that is consistent, that will be there for them, that will see them."

Credit: KGW

Whittaker said the need he's seeing at The People's Pantry is higher than ever.

"We put out 5.4 tons of food out of here just last month," he said. At that rate, the Hand Up Project will double the assistance it gave out last year.

With the need as high as ever, the nonprofit is now facing a new challenge.

COVID-19 relief funds that were subsidizing their stay at the Q-Center have run out. More than $4,000 a month, that’s the estimated value of the space the pantry utilizes in the Q-Center. A gradually increasing rent, starting at $500 per month, is expected in May.

"We need sustaining supporters," Whittaker said. "People who give, if it's $10, $15, $20 a month, if it's $100 dollars, just people who can give on a regular basis. That's the backbone of nonprofits."

To learn about how to volunteer with the Hand Up Project or become a sustaining supporter, click here.


The KGW Great Food Drive is going on now. You can help us reach our goal of providing 1.2 million meals to families in need by donating here.


Chris McGinness is a meteorologist and reporter for KGW. Got a story idea or a great photo you want to share? Email him at cmcginness@kgw.com or reach out on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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