Like many people in the hospitality industry, Portland-based chef Michael Casper experienced a moment of powerful uncertainty when COVID-19 shut down life as we know it. It was April 2020. His plans for a trip to Southeast Asia were canceled and his employer had laid him off; he found himself sitting on a plastic milk crate in his kitchen wondering what to do next.
Spurred by a desire to help the community and his late grandmother’s sage advice — “If you don’t know what to do, do what you know” — Michael set out to simply provide a few friends and families with a night of not having to cook. Now, his 501c3 nonprofit Milk Crate Kitchen serves meals to families in need across the entire Portland area, from Vancouver to Tigard and Hillsboro to Gresham.
Though the mutual aid project initially emphasized supporting service industry workers, caregivers, and essential workers, its mission is to overcome barriers to food security for anyone in need, no questions asked.
Approx. 3,000 family meals (four individual servings each) have been delivered in two years, free of charge to recipients. Those interested can request a meal Monday through Wednesday, or until capacity is reached. Prep and cook work is completed Thursday + Friday, with contactless delivery carried out on Saturday between 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Nutritional menu items rotate weekly with alternatives for people with dietary restrictions — Sat., June 25’s meal includes red beans and rice with ham or chickpea tempeh, served with braised greens.
Milk Crate Kitchen is completely volunteer-run and donation-funded, and is searching for community partners to help fundraise so it can expand its operation + meet growing demand.
All contributions go directly toward the commercial kitchen rental, food, supplies, and additional needs, like gas mileage reimbursement for volunteers and purchasing a fundraising/donor management software.