2013: OREGON FOOD BANK

BEHIND OREGON FOOD BANK’S cavernous loading docks in Northeast Portland, where more than three million pounds of food are distributed every month, sits a garden brimming with jalapeño plants, lacy stalks of quinoa, and several chickens. This is the food bank’s Learning Garden, where low-income communities learn how to grow their own food and, in the process, help provide 17,000 pounds of fresh vegetables annually to hungry households around the state. “There is a shift in the food-banking world from thinking about hunger as just a social justice issue to thinking about it as a public health issue,” says CEO Susannah Morgan, who has led the 32-year-old nonprofit since 2012. To help address what Morgan calls “hunger with a big H,” the Oregon Food Bank has pioneered programs at every level. Cooking Matters courses teach low-income Oregonians the basics of cooking at home with an eye on nutrition and practical budgeting. The FEAST program (Food, Education, Agriculture Solutions Together) digs deep into local food systems—from farmers to grocery owners to school principals—and brings together the community to establish healthy symbiotic relationships where none exist. Finally, CHOP (Choose Healthy Options Program) ranks the nutritional value of OFB’s inventory, ensuring that hungry families are eating their proverbial broccoli. “Clients are dying for fresh produce,” Morgan says. “You still need to sell a rutabaga over a bag of potato chips, but putting a real focus on nutrition isn’t rocket science.”The garden is just one of the $56.9 million nonprofit’s initiatives putting it at the national forefront of food banks, by focusing, not just on providing food, but on nutrition and preventive measures against hunger. 

2012: Outside In

As usual, there are few available chairs in the sunny waiting room of Outside In’s primary care clinic on SW 13th Avenue. Nearly 17,000 patients—69 percent of them homeless—flow through the nonprofit’s medical clinics, a record. But Outside In’s impact on keeping Portland healthy extends well beyond the examination room. “We treat the whole person,” says communications director Kelly Anderson. For instance, because poor nutrition is a serious issue for many of the people it treats, Outside In serves three meals a day, six days a week to homeless youth. To address the lack of education prevalent among that population, Outside In started a school wherein homeless youth—with the help of one amazing teacher and a lot of volunteers—receive their GEDs. Since the nighttime streets harbor threats more severe than just disturbed sleep, some 65 housing units are available for youth ready to make the transition from street life to home life. And because addiction is a persistent problem, Outside In started a needle exchange. In 2011, the program issued more than 525,000 syringes—and received 99.96 percent of those back—which helps to prevent the spread of diseases that have exorbitant treatment costs and can cut a young life short. One thing Outside In can’t change is the rate of homelessness itself, which has skyrocketed since the economic downturn. From 2010 to 2011, Outside In helped 118 percent more young people than it did just five years before, demonstrating just how essential this nonprofit is to our city. 

2011: Project Access Now



After Gordon Eastman lost his job in 2009, he began having a hard time speaking in coherent sentences. Without health insurance, and convinced he was losing his mind, Eastman ended up at a free urgent care clinic that attributed his impaired mental functions to a case of untreated diabetes. Since the clinic wasn’t set up for the ongoing treatments he needed, providers there turned to Project Access Now, a seven-year-old group that helps connect uninsured low-income patients in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington with a network of 3,000 health care providers willing to donate their time. PAN determines what practitioner is the best fit for the patient’s needs, then helps schedule appointments at the physician’s regular offices and even provides appointment reminders and transportation. “A little bit from a lot of people makes a big difference,” says executive director Linda Nilsen-Solares. We’ll say. PAN has connected nearly 6,000 patients like Eastman (who not only found his way back to health, but also found a new job) to the care that, in some cases, saves their lives.

2010: COALITION FOR A LIVEABLE FUTURE

Achieving good health takes more than just eating your leafy greens and getting some exercise. It also hinges on a wide range of overlapping social justice and environmental issues, including living conditions, work, education, health care, transportation, and water and air quality. Enter the Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF), a 20-year-old partnership of more than a hundred groups that work together to ensure affordable housing, clean water, protected natural space, living-wage jobs, and transportation choices for low-income populations and neighborhoods. CLF’s staff of five produces the Regional Equity Atlas, which maps community access to parks, grocery stores, and transportation. CLF successfully rallied to preserve the former Colwood Golf Course as green space in the Cully neighborhood—which not only has twice the regional average poverty rate but is one of Portland’s most park-deficient areas. CLF also forges connections between diverse organizations that, together, have persuaded Metro to put $15 million into walking, cycling, and public transit projects, and have guaranteed that low-income women, people of color, and youth have access to the City’s Clean Energy Works “green collar” jobs. “Our greatest achievement is probably that we’re still here,” says CLF co-director Jill Fuglister. “It speaks to the unique culture of Portland that organizations with different individual goals work together so that the entire community can thrive.”

2010: HOUSECALL PROVIDERS INC

Once upon a time, all doctors made house calls. Today, the only medical personnel you’re likely to see at your house are EMTs—unless you’re one of the patients being served by Housecall Providers, a 20-year-old organization that makes more than 10,000 house calls a year and provides full-time home hospice support for Portland-area residents who are in their last months of life. Dr. Benneth Husted started the organization after three years of running a solo house-call program out of her dining room. Today, Housecall Providers employs more than 50 physicians, nurse practitioners, hospice workers, and professional volunteers who serve more than 1,300 homebound seniors and people with disabilities or who suffer from multiple chronic conditions.

2009: Quest Center for Integrative Health

“If not for [my erstwhile beau], I wouldn’t have caught that gumdrop-size nodule over my heart for a good while longer,” wrote Viva Las Vegas, local author and exotic dancer, in a story about her journey through breast cancer published in Portland Monthly. And if it hadn’t been for the Quest Center, which provides integrative health care—from group therapy to acupuncture—for low-income individuals, she might not have made it through sane. “When I was a complete mess,” Viva says, “I knew I could trust them to help me make some of the toughest decisions of my life.” Founded 25 years ago in response to the AIDS crisis, Quest’s reach has extended beyond one disease. “We will see anybody who needs care,” says executive director David Eisen. “By providing a culture of compassion, we help people make life changes so they can better themselves.”

2008: Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP)

Touring CHAP’s Pearl District offices is a walk through a colorful mélange of jewelry, foam-rubber masks, finger paintings, and hand-knotted Nepalese rugs emblazoned with designs, all made by Portland kids. “You should see this place during our Art Club sessions,” executive director Frank Etxaniz says, referring to the monthly events CHAP hosts for kids who are well enough to attend. “It’s wonderful chaos.” Etxaniz, a painter and a former design consultant for New York’s Museum of Modern Art, launched CHAP in 2005 to provide art programs for children who have been treated at local hospitals, whether for a terminal illness or simply a broken arm. The artist could be a kindergartner recovering from a second liver transplant or a girl born without arms. Whereas they once made only masks, the children now also paint, sculpt, and create paper flowers and greeting cards. The program reaches about 10,000 kids and their parents each year.