This conversation is one in a series of interviews held with nonprofits on Field Day, where we highlight the important work they’re doing in local communities.
Our Streets PDX was created to provide dynamic community support in our ever-changing society. Through their work, Our Streets PDX addresses a variety of pressing issues, including environmental injustice, houselessness, food insecurity, civilian oppression, and youth disengagement. Founded in June 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (disproportionately affecting BIPOC communities) and the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, the nonprofit has given community members wanting to take action ways to get directly involved.
Today, Our Streets PDX’s main work addresses growing houselessness in Portland. They recently moved into their own kitchen and are now preparing more than 4,000 meals per week for people experiencing housing and food insecurity.
We interviewed Mitchell “Buchi” Asemota, Executive Director and Co-founder of Our Streets PDX, along with their marketing team, to learn more about the nonprofit’s journey. Without further ado, let’s hear from Our Streets PDX!
For readers who may not have heard of Our Streets PDX yet, can you provide an overview of your mission and the services you provide?
Our Streets PDX was created with the goal of fostering growth within our community and encouraging folks to help one another. We observe issues that we have the ability to combat and do everything we can to help. That can mean picking up trash on the streets, preparing and distributing food to the unhoused, getting them cold water during the deadly summer heatwaves, building an accessible community garden, and so much more.
We’d love to hear a bit about the beginning of Our Streets PDX, which was founded in the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020. Can you speak to the community issues that motivated you to start Our Streets PDX?
Our Streets PDX started as a group of friends attending the Portland Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020. Our founders, Mitchell Asemota and Mikah Takashige, were inspired by the movement and decided they could do more to help the Portland community. We noticed the gaps that were growing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and issues that were further brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement. Once we realized we had the power to do something about it, it all grew from there. It went from cleaning up graffiti left behind by protests to picking up trash in various neighborhoods and providing meals along with various other resources to our houseless community.
While Our Streets PDX is less than two years old, it’s already making a huge impact on the Portland community. Can you tell us a bit about the growth you’ve experienced over the past almost-two years?
Our Streets PDX has evolved in ways we never thought possible. What started out as us making hot dogs in a home kitchen to distribute in lunch sacks on the streets has evolved into providing hundreds of meals to shelters daily.
When we started this organization, we never anticipated growing in such a capacity. A large part of it is from the endless community support. It was amazing to see so many people leap at the chance to help us make a difference. Our team grew from a small crew of volunteers to an employed staff. We’ve developed partnerships with some of the best Portland-based mutual aid organizations. It’s been incredibly inspiring and heartwarming to see just how much is possible when your community comes together.
How is Our Streets PDX supported by volunteer engagement?
We would be nowhere without our volunteers. Volunteers are how we push our mission forward. They are the reason Our Streets PDX got off the ground in the first place. Our first entire year as an organization was run by a volunteer staff, and all of our events rely on volunteer participation. As of today, we have daily volunteer shifts in the kitchen to help with food prep, meal packaging, and cleaning, and we have many more volunteer opportunities to come.
Right now on Field Day, corporate groups in our beta program are able to sign up for a Food Prep shift with Our Streets PDX. What’s typically accomplished in a shift and how does it impact the folks you serve?
A typical food prep shift could go a couple different ways. Volunteers can prep vegetables for our meals provided to shelters, or assist us with meal packaging and clean-up, as we get prepared for the next day. We make over 600 meals a day.
You must have learned so much over your rapid growth in the past year and a half – how has that learning impacted the direction in which you'll focus and expand your operations and programs?
When we first started, we had a lot of different avenues we wanted to explore to support the community. Since then, we have been able to acquire funding through other avenues. This funding has now guided us creating and implementing more long term stability for our programs and staff. We are always looking for ways to grow and support the community we serve.
Readers can follow us on Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with Our Streets. Our Instagram is very active and provides regular updates on volunteer opportunities, fundraisers, and upcoming events, all great ways to get involved.
Learn more about Our Streets PDX by visiting their website, ourstreetspdx.org