Fish: Neighbors Helping Neighbors

By Don MacGillivray


Unfortunately, Portland still has many people in need of basic emergency assistance. When the paycheck is gone or is not enough for the rent and folks become desperate, Fish Emergency Service may be able to help. For the last forty-five years Fish has helped people need because of illness, loneliness, old age, blindness, family disintegration, loss of employment or lack of educational opportunities.

Fish is one of the most accessible emergency agencies serving the neighbors of inner Southeast serving all of Multnomah County west of 92nd Ave. In addition to emergency food, Fish provides clothing, personal care products, household utensils and goods, information and referral services and rent and utility assistance when funds are available.

Fish accepts donations during office hours and at other times when prior arrangements are made. Food donations accepted include bulk food items, canned and packaged items, commercially-baked goods, dairy products and eggs, desserts and sweets, fresh produce, frozen goods, and USDA-inspected meats

Fish supplies three to five days of nutritious, emergency food and that translates into 114,720 meals per year. They provide service once every four months, but more frequently with a referral and helps an average 1,000 adults and 500 children per month. Out of every donated dollar, 87¢ goes to program services. While there are no charges for any of the services, clients must be willing to take steps to regain their financial independence. Fish is a direct-service agency and a nonprofit organization so gifts are tax deductible.

The staff consists of four paid employees helped by many volunteers. 693 volunteers contributed 14,148 hours  of service to the community in the last year.

Under the leadership of Deborah Turner, the new executive director, the organization hopes to expand their client base and outreach to the community. Recently, she was deputy director and director of programs for the nonprofit housing organization Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives and previously the executive director for Blue Skies for Children, which provides services to homeless and low-income children.

The Fish board of directors is elected from the community. Most of the support comes from individuals and the balance of the support comes from church congregations, businesses, foundations and clubs. In addition, they receive many in-kind donations of food, clothing and other items.

One of the many contributors are folks involved with Portland’s Community Garden program. Community gardeners turn their ability to produce food into an opportunity to fulfill the needs of the hungry. The lack of fresh vegetables in the Fish food boxes is made up in by the efforts of Colonel Summers, Sewallcrest, Buckman, Creston Park, Brentwood, and Lents Park community gardens. This program is called “Produce for People” and it was sprouted in 1995. It is a Portland Parks & Recreation offshoot linking Community Gardeners with local emergency food programs to help provide families with fresh, local produce.

Gardeners from Colonel Summers Community Garden have given over 1000 pounds of fruit and vegetables so far this season with more to come. Service agencies appreciate the consistent supply of large, luscious vegetables and fruits provided by Produce for People.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food program is a major source of the food given out by Fish, but in the last few years, this program has reduced its donations by 65 percent. This has made it necessary to reduce the size of the food boxes from 44 pounds to 36 pounds. The cost of purchased food has risen by over 50 percent. Donated food from local sources is much needed to replace this reduction as needs have grown significantly.

The name Fish is used to represent the basic philosophy of “neighbor helping neighbor”. It comes from the Classical Greek word “Ichthus” (meaning fish in Greek) which was used as a secret sign by which the Christians would identify themselves. Christianity was a secret religious faith for its first three hundred years.

In 1961, the Church of St. Andrew’s in Oxford, England organized the first modern Fish ministry. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon started Fish in 1967, with a small group of people that offered emergency food and transportation to those in need. Fish is just ordinary folks who want to help. Some volunteer, others organize food drives, community gardeners donate extra food, students sort donated food, and others provide financial support.

If you would like to help or if you know of those that need help, Fish Emergency Service is located at 1335 SE Hawthorne Blvd.


Fish: Neighbors Helping Neighbors

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