The Community Table: Portland Open Bible Feeds Bodies and Souls 

If you walk into the food pantry at Portland Open Bible (POB), you’ll see a beautifully diverse demographic that reflects the neighborhood in which it is planted. Chinese, Russian, African American, Hispanic, and White families all gather on Tuesdays and Thursdays, known in the community as “pantry days.” In addition to receiving food, they’re gifted with joy and a genuine kindness that is unusual for many of them. 

Pantry staff hand out fresh produce to members of the neighborhood

“It offers a level of humanity that they might not have had before,” said Pastor Aaron Brown. “People can say to themselves, ‘If I step on site at Portland Open Bible Church, I know that for one – people are going to be nice to me, and two – they’re going to try and help me with what I need.’” 

Aaron and the food pantry team are going a step further, striving not only to give their community what it needs but also what it wants. When the pantry was in its beginning stages, the staff realized that too much of what was given away was being thrown away. They would find food thrown on the ground a short distance from the pantry, and knowing their program couldn’t be sustained with so much food waste, they were determined to solve the problem. As they began taking data on who their program was serving, noting the diverse ethnicities, they realized their food options didn’t meet the dietary needs of many of the ethnicities they were serving.  

“Our Asian families don’t necessarily want Ritz Crackers and Fruit Loops,” explained Aaron. The pantry developed a detailed intake form in which clients were surveyed not only on their demographics and family size, but on the types of food they most desire. This data allows the pantry to save money by purchasing only the food that is needed AND wanted by their community. “We’re putting an end to food waste through client choice.”  

That’s not all. As of 2024, the pantry has begun a new program called “The Community Table.” In partnership with Providence health care, the pantry now provides weekly cooking classes with two professional chefs. Each meal is cooked from scratch with whole foods (provided free of charge to participants) and follows a recipe that was contributed by a member of the Portland community. They might cook a Russian meal one week and a Cantonese meal the next. “We have people from all cultures cooking foods from all cultures,” Aaron shared proudly. “It’s food they chose that comes with a story.” Classes are filmed, each recipe taught as a unique episode that includes the recipe’s contributor sharing the story of why that meal is meaningful to his or her family. Once all the episodes are filmed, food pantry visitors will have the option of receiving a video link for a weekly episode along with all the ingredients for that “meal of the week.”  

“I was skeptical at first, but the numbers keep growing,” said Aaron. And he’s not kidding: the pantry has expanded from its initial service of 123 families in 2013 to currently serving 84,000 families.  

So, how did it all begin? Aaron credits his mother, Betty Brown, with the idea for the pantry. In 2013 the church was experiencing repeated break-ins. Despite there being technology and other valuables to steal, the only thing taken was food. Betty gathered the staff one day and gave them a choice: “We can either keep reporting these break-ins or we can start feeding our community.” They decided to do the latter. What began with a few donated canned food items by church members developed into what is now a widely recognized program funded by million-dollar grants.  

Selecting the perfect egg

“Everyone deserves to be fed, and to be fed healthy food.” Aaron explained that their neighborhood is in an inner-city “food desert,” a technical term for a neighborhood without easy access to affordable and fresh food. These neighborhoods often have plenty of gas stations and convenience stores, but no grocery stores. Imagine being a single mom who must take city transportation to get to a grocery store in the next city over, then find a way to transport multiple grocery bags home, all with her five kids in tow. This is the reality of many families near Portland Open Bible. The pantry’s intake forms show that these families want healthy options; they’re just in a food desert where they can’t get it.  

As Portland Open Bible nourishes its community, they are seeing physical nourishment carry over into the spiritual. “We try to be a beacon of light,” said Aaron. “We serve some of the nicest, friendliest people, and when they see you’ll be kind to them, they open up their whole life story. ‘I used to go to church…’ is what they’ll often say. I’ve seen former youth pastors show up, worship musicians, people high on whatever blasting worship music. They’re usually the most humble people just wanting food.” A lot of them showed up addicted, trying to get clean. They come volunteer at the pantry and get free food, then eventually end up becoming employees. “Overall,” summarized Aaron, “we’re here to bring people to Christ. A lot of people who didn’t go to church before now go to church because of the pantry.” 

If you visit 92nd and Powell in Southeast Portland, you just might find a homeless man learning how to make Tiramisu. You’ll also find an innovative church feeding bodies and souls with Christ-like compassion.  

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done” (Prov. 19:17 NIV).  

To learn more about The Community Table, check out these videos:

About the Author

Hannah Bemis

Hannah Bemis currently serves as the Community Pastor at Turning Point Church in Spokane, Washington. She’s always wanted to do too many things when she grows up, and God has been kind enough to let her do most of them in different seasons. After seasons of mothering, teaching, writing, and staff pastoring, Hannah’s most recent adventures include serving as the Editor and Director of Message of the Open Bible and preparing to plant and co-pastor a church in Newberg, Oregon with her husband, Jordan. After Jesus and all her favorite people, she spends the remainder of her passion on pizza and dark chocolate, in equal measure. 

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