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Portland nonprofit's food rescue program fuels its mission to feed the hungry

The Blanchet House turned food that would go to waste at grocery stores and restaurants into more than 300,000 meals last year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland nonprofit, Blanchet House, has been helping people in need with food, clothing and shelter for the past 70 years. Amid the pandemic, the need for these services has skyrocketed.

Blanchet House serves about 1,200 meals a day, according to Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Ransdell. The meals are served over the course of six days each week, which amounts to well over 300,000 meals in just the past year at Blanchet House’s downtown location in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood. 

It’s a massive amount of food prepared for an overwhelming number of people experiencing homelessness or food insecurity.

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"These meals are not just healthy. They’re delicious," said Ransdell.

Ransdell also helps manage the nonprofit's Food Rescue Program.

Making all those meals for all those people every day starts by collecting, or "rescuing," food that would otherwise go to waste from grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses. Items that shoppers may pass on at the grocery store because of a soon-to-arrive expiration date are immediately put to good use by Blanchet House.

The only catch is that the chefs at Blanchet House never really know exactly what food they’ll have to work with. They just know it’ll be enough to make healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the masses.

“I definitely try to use a lot of fresh herbs [and] a lot of fresh, robust spices and things and... try to balance it out [with] protein and lots of vegetables and whole grains," said Shannon Chasteen, Blanchet House chef and kitchen operations manager.

But not every scrap of food is used at the Blanchet House kitchen either. That’s where the final part of this food rescue cycle comes into play.

Food that’s not used in the kitchen is sent to Yamhill County to feed the animals at Blanchet Farm. The Farm has been around since the 1960s, providing a manual labor program to help men who are struggling with addiction gain sobriety.

Thanks to the Food Rescue Program, the pigs at the farm are well-fed, too.

“They go through probably 250 pounds of food a week that we recycle from downtown,” said Blanchet Farm Foreman Ron Lovegreen.

So how does that make the pigs feel? 

“Oh... very happy!” said Lovegreen.

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