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  • Writer's pictureGreg Bennick

10,000 Sandwiches Distributed on the Streets in Portland Oregon

If you want to build a better future, BUILD A BETTER NOW™. Talk about active engagement in that idea: the Portland Mutual Aid Network is making it happen. We are talking the talk and collectively walking the walk.

This week the Portland Mutual Aid Network served its 10,000th PB&J sandwich. Every week since June 2020 we have been out distributing supplies and networking with the houseless community in Portland Oregon (we’ve only missed five weeks in those two years). We go out with wagons, and those wagons are filled with supplies, and everything we have in those wagons has come from direct request from someone on the street.

We do so much more than sandwiches, but making and distributing them have been a consistent part of what we do since the very beginning. We are a team that values teamwork and communication.

When we started, we had no idea where all this work would go, how it would go, or even what we were really doing…and the good news is that we are still figuring it out. I say “good news” and I specify that we are “still figuring it out” for all the people who write in and ask how they can get something like PMAN going in their community and fear that they have no clue where to start. The good news is that its process. Its mistakes and missteps, successes and right choices too.  You have to start somewhere, and you have to keep going no matter what. There will always be opposition and especially critique. Miring oneself in either is lazy and an invitation to failure.

Its critical to focus on the team and the dynamic and culture of teamwork you create and develop along the way. And the way to best create a team culture is through constant engagement in communication and being willing to overcome challenges through devotion to process.

At the end of the day, what we do is rooted in community. We realized there was a need. We realized that our privilege allowed us the opportunity to help with that need. And from there we went to work. The hurdles along the way have been huge at times, but with a solid team anything is possible. And we definitely have that.

Everything we distribute on the street is in response to requests from people on the street: sleeping bags, tents, personal care products, flashlights, harm reduction supplies, hats / gloves, rain protection, and dozens more items. We engage, we listen, we respond.

In the last few months, we’ve branched out into hot meals on weekends too (this last Sunday we distributed – all vegan – macaroni and cheese, BBQ sliders, vegan mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and more all throughout the city! All of this was donated by a local business, The Vegan Caterer, who had excess food after an event they had catered.  Talk about teamwork! They had extra, they offered it, we accepted, and we all made it happen together.

In addition to food distribution, this summer we are going to be doing a mobile book distribution with hundreds of books people have donated. We have boxes and boxes of political books and books on history and are currently looking for sources for fun book, random titles, and different things for people to read – again all in response to requests of people we have met on the street.

We’ve started networking with mutual aid groups in other cities too, sharing supplies. Being that we are based in Portland we have been watching the pushback from the city of Portland against unsheltered people and that this is matching the same pushback against houseless people in the city of Seattle. As a result, we’ve been sharing supplies with our friends the Eggrolls mutual aid crew in Seattle who are working every weekend in a massive way out of ChuMinh Tofu Vegan Deli, doing incredible work for others in their community in Seattle.

If you’ve ever wanted to support neighbors in your city and aren’t sure how to start, message me anytime. I can share everything we’ve tried and done and succeeded with and failed with along the way. We will definitely be able to get you started! We can’t say it enough: the team is the core. And you can create that even if you are just starting out on your own.

You don’t have to be perfect at the start of all of this. As Forbes said in an article a couple years back on Voltaire’s original quote (“Perfect is the enemy of the good”), “great things take time to unfold.” We’ve made countless mistakes along the way and I’d be happy to share them with you to help you on your journey.

Mutual aid is about listening. To others, to community, and to ourselves in terms of what we can offer and what capacity we have to share. Are we perfect at that?  Never, and absolutely not.  People get burned out, frustrated, short fused, upset, and mess up all the time in terms of how we react to people and one another.  But what’s important is the throughline of connection and communication overall and the ongoing, never-ending process of support as a guiding force behind the work we are all trying to do. 

Perfection and striving for it is a distraction. Consistency and being there for people in the long run is ultimately what matters most.

Get in touch anytime. Because as I always like to say: Don’t do what we have done. Do it better ❤️🙏

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