Potluck in the Park

Potluck in the Park

A flurry of serving spoons, dozens of industrial-size casseroles and jumbo coffee urns set the scene every Sunday at O'Bryant Square in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Potluck in the Park, a community-wide program, has been serving hot meals to anyone in need since 1991. An integral part of the effort is Christ Episcopal Church of Lake Oswego. The congregation has faithfully provided the casseroles and beverages for Potluck in the Park for 13 years.

"The heart of the potluck is the casserole because it's warm and offers protein and substance," says Christ Episcopal program coordinator Alison Gilmore.

On average, 250 to 500 people are served each Sunday.

"At our 16th annual BBQ, we fed over 1,000 people in just over two hours," adds Alison's husband and co-coordinator, Larry.

Preparing enough huge casseroles weekly to feed the masses is not an easy task, but with generous donations from the Oregon Culinary Institute and the Western Culinary Institute, the church crew is able to pull it off.

Every Friday, volunteers head to the institutes to pick up "leftovers" from the culinary classes. They collect proteins such as fresh lamb, beef and pork, and starches like potatoes and rice. Back in the church's commercial kitchen, ingredients are sorted and evaluated. Alison and Larry come in on Saturdays to determine which fillers are needed to make tasty hot dishes.

Right after the Sunday service, cooks head to the kitchen to make 12 huge casseroles. They are picked up at 2 p.m. by volunteers for delivery to O'Bryant Square.

Still more church members join dozens of other community volunteers including Boy Scout troops and service groups who donate additional foods and help serve the meal.

By 3 p.m., a long line of hungry people wraps around O'Bryant Square.

Says Alison, "Many say, 'bless you,' and 'thank you.' One man lost his job and came for a hot meal in the park. Eventually, he got his job back, and he started serving with us. Once people start helping, they don't stop."

Alison's recipes for Taco Casseroles, Baked Mixed Vegetables and Simply Sinful Breakfast Bake draw great reviews.