LIGHT A FIRE
Most with the Least
Awarded to an organization effecting significant change with minimal resources and fewer than five paid staff members
2014: Urban Gleaners
Food waste is a national epidemic: the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that up to 40 percent of the food sold in the United States—133 billion pounds—goes directly into the trash. Tracy Oseran of Urban Gleaners knows this all too well. Since 2006, she has steered her van all over Portland, collecting excess produce, dairy, and whole-grain breads from grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, and farmers markets to make weekly deliveries to homeless shelters and schools in high-poverty areas like Mill Park—all with just three full-time employees and a team of volunteers. Oseran started Urban Gleaners after hearing an NPR story about food waste. She drove straight to Bluehour and asked the cooks for the day’s leftovers. “You have to be really pushy, which initially was hard,” she says. “But I learned how to do it.” Her persistence has paid off. Last summer, Urban Gleaners expanded into a 3,300-square-foot space in Southeast Portland. Here’s a snapshot of how Oseran leverages minimal resources for maximal impact.
- $165 B: Approximate value of the food Americans waste every year
- 50: Percent increase in the amount of food the average American wastes since the 1970s
- 25 M: Americans we could feed by reducing food waste just 15%
- 1 in 6: Americans who lack a secure supply of food
- 3: Full-time employees at Urban Gleaners
- $132,000: Urban Gleaners’ 2013 annual budget
- 44: Participating grocery store chains, farmers markets, and other institutions that donate food to Urban Gleaners
- 45,000: Pounds of food Urban Gleaners picks up and delivers every month
- 17: Portland schools participating in Urban Gleaners’ Food to Schools program, launched in 2009
- 3,200: Students and family members receiving food from Urban Gleaners
- 75-95: Percentage of students at served schools who come from low-income homes
- $0: Cost of excess food to Urban Gleaners
Portland's best nonprofits with our Guide to Giving!
2013: THE CHILDREN’S BOOK BANK
FOR THE KIDS at Earl Boyles Elementary, having Dr. Seuss around the house isn’t a given. Nearly a quarter of the outer Southeast school’s families have 10 or fewer books at home and little access to libraries. That’s where the Children’s Book Bank comes in: handing out bags filled with a lovingly curated mix of alphabet, poetry, and picture books to low-income families to give youngsters a boost in the literacy department.
Before becoming the nonprofit book fairy, CBB founder Danielle Swope, taught math in rural North Carolina with Teach for America. “I saw how bleak the future was if you’re in high school and really can’t read,” she recalls. “We have to get books in the hands of kids as soon as we can.”
“This model works because it’s easy for anybody to get involved,” says Swope. Every week, new volunteers and longtime helpers crowd into the nonprofit’s cramped, cheery Northeast Portland headquarters to sort through the overflowing donation boxes. They gab like a coffee klatch as they scrub covers with lemony cleaner and tape up torn pages, gasping in delight when they rediscover old favorites. Since 2007, the organization has made sure all Head Start preschoolers in Multnomah County have books to call their own, in addition to stocking book fairs and providing “book prescriptions” for Children’s Community Clinic patients—all with three staffers and an annual budget of $140,000.
“Their work means my children have access to books,” says Earl Boyles Principal Ericka Guynes. “When you see these little guys walking out the door with those green book bags, they just treasure them. It is like we are giving them gold.”
2012: PORTLAND VETERANS ACUPUNCTURE PROJECT
It’s a reality of war: years and even decades after combat, too many service members continue to struggle with war’s devastating effects on their bodies and their spirits. In fact, up to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war vets and up to 30 percent of Vietnam vets suffer from PTSD or other stress-related ailments. Acupuncture has been shown to help relieve symptoms, yet veterans’ benefits rarely cover the treatment. So when a new generation of soldiers began returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, retired Portland VA Hospital researcher Prudence Marshall, VA doctor Diane Miller, and licensed acupuncturist Rick DeTroy took matters into their own hands, literally. With no website and no budget, in 2007 they rented a small sanctuary in a Southeast church, filled it with lounge chairs, and started offering donation-only acupuncture to veterans every Thursday night. Over seven years, the number of veterans the group helps has ballooned. In the first year, the group saw two, maybe three vets a night. Today, it’s more like 25—on a shoestring budget. The group administers roughly 1,200 treatments for vets and their spouses and receives an average of just $3.29 per treatment. (Acupuncturists often charge $75 or more per treatment session.) But the scene inside the church provides a testament to acupuncture’s priceless power. After the needles go in, chatter falls away, visible agitation ceases, and arms and legs relax. The relief is palpable—and for veterans like Adam Black, a soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom and other tours who suffers from PTSD, the weekly treatments are life renewing. “I come in crawling,” he says, “and I leave walking.”
2011: Farmers Ending Hunger
To say Oregon has a robust agricultural industry is kind of like saying New York has a decent fashion scene. Our state grew more than 50 million tons of fruit, and that’s to say nothing of the vegetables, grains, fish, and ranch products we also raise each year. Sadly, that bounty doesn’t always find its way to the mouths of our citizens; a new report from Feeding America ranks Oregon second only to Washington, DC, for childhood hunger. But Oregon growers of all kinds are working to change that through Farmers Ending Hunger. Launched in 2006 with a donation of 173,000 pounds of frozen peas, the program stocks pantries like the Oregon Food Bank, soup kitchens, and shelters with supplies donated by farmers and ranchers. The program distributes about 2 million pounds of fresh fruit and veggies, frozen produce, locally milled pancake mix, and ground beef. Yet after eight years in operation, Farmers Ending Hunger still has just one employee—executive director John Burt—and operates on a shoestring budget. In essence, this nonprofit is powered by the people who till the land. “It’s been amazing to see how farmers step up,” Burt says. “They want to be good corporate citizens in the world, but also make the highly personal decision to feed hungry people.” We call that farm-to-heart.
2010: GREEN EMPOWERMENT
In the United States, solar energy may be a luxury for the type of folks featured in Dwell, but for the 1.6 billion people in the world with no electricity, it can mean the difference between life and death. Case in point: solar panels in 38 rural health clinics and hospitals in the conflict zone along Burma’s border with Thailand have made it possible for more than 175,000 patients with land-mine injuries and other medical needs to get treatment. Solar is just one of the technologies that Green Empowerment uses to establish clean energy and potable water in scores of impoverished communities spanning eight countries—and they do it all with only five full-time employees. How? “Well, we’re mindful of overhead,” says executive director Anna Garwood. Translation: the nonprofit partners with in-country NGOs and community leaders before any project begins, exponentially expanding its scope. They scale projects to a suitable size for the community—such as the development of compact, single-home wind turbines in the town of Alumbre, high in the Peruvian Andes. Thanks in part to fundraising efforts by Portland’s own Andina restaurant, these turbines now provide 35 homes with electricity, making it possible for residents of the tiny village to charge cellular phones and connect with the rest of the world.
2009: Chess for Success
Chess is a sneaky game, says Phillip Margolin, the first president of Chess for Success (CFS), a nonprofit that introduces underprivileged children to the game. “[With chess], you have to focus, think two or three steps ahead, and realize the consequences of your actions,” says Margolin, who struggled academically as a child until he gained confidence through chess. “It tricks kids into learning study skills.” In fact, a Congressional study revealed that a higher percentage of CFS kids exceeded math and reading standards than a comparison group of their peers. Any child can participate in the six-month-long program for free; CFSpays the $75 it costs to support one student for the duration of the program. “Pound for pound, it’s the best nonprofit in the country,” Margolin claims.
2008: Adelante Mujeres
“‘I am teacher. You are student.’ Class, what is missing from this sentence?” teacher Dave Pero asks the 10 women sitting at a wobbly table in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church near downtown Forest Grove. The students, most of whom are from Mexico and are in their 20s to 40s, study the dry-erase board. From the back of the room a soft voice finally offers an answer: “The?” “That’s right!” says Pero. “‘I am the teacher. You are the student.’ Nicely done.” At first, this class may seem like any other English language course, but in fact it’s just one facet of the services that Adelante Mujeres (Spanish for “women move forward”) provides for immigrant women and their families in this rural Washington County community. Latinas who commit to Adelante’s yearlong curriculum also have access to classes and workshops on parenting, self-esteem, entrepreneurship, leadership, and empowerment. It’s this last subject that Adelante’s executive director, Bridget Cooke, says is the most life-altering for the group’s clients. “Our students leave with confidence they never knew they had,” Cooke says. “They realize they don’t have to clean houses or wash dishes for the rest of their lives. We open up a world of possibilities for them.” Adelante’s graduates have gone on to receive GEDs and start businesses (many now sell organic produce at Forest Grove’s weekly farmers market), but the organization’s ability to meet all of its goals almost wholly on donated time and limited resources may be its most impressive accomplishment. The dedicated crew of 90 or so teachers, staff, and volunteers prove that no hay limites—there are no limits—to the differences each of us can make.