By Ellen Spitaleri
Everyone is hoping for better times in 2021, but Jacobsen Valentine has specific items on his wish list for the new year.
As the founder and executive director of Feed the Mass, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding people in and around the metro area, Valentine is hoping the community will support the organization’s mission.
“Our biggest need right now is a donated commercial kitchen space that is large enough to allow us to continue our work,” he said. “In addition to space, we need funding and we need partnerships with restaurant owners/managers. We’re a relatively new 501(c)(3), so we do not have the consistent cash flow that we need for long term sustainability.”
Valentine encourages anyone needing a meal to come to The Breathe Building at 2305 SE 50th Ave., noon to 1 pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or sign up for delivery at feedthemass.org/fed.
“I want people to not feel like there is a stigma for using our service,” Valentine said. “Everyone needs meals. Even if you just want to try our food, come on down or sign up for a delivered meal. Please be a part of our community.”
Feed the Mass was created in 2016 with a mission to bring people together through food and education. Valentine said he heard the story of Jesus and the miracle of feeding the masses with five fish and two loaves of bread.
“The story wasn’t that he multiplied the food, but that if people shared the little they had, it would always be enough,” he added. “To feed the mass, you need to teach people to feed each other. This is where the name Feed the Mass comes from. My goal is to teach people that we take care of each other through food and cooking.”
At first, Valentine started teaching children how to cook and bake simple, yet healthy food at their parents’ request. When pandemic restrictions were put in place and he could no longer teach cooking classes, he realized the mission of Feed the Mass had to change.
Now the organization develops, cooks and serves healthy meals to all in need, while working with local property owners, grocery partners, food suppliers, regional farmers and people-of-color businesses.
“We are also providing on-the-job training for volunteers interested in the food industry, training them in the art of making beautiful, healthy food for large amounts of people,” he said.
“There is a big gap between people of color and access to healthy food. Before, we were teaching people how to close that gap and use healthy cooking practices to save their lives. Now we cook the healthy food and help close that gap for them,” he said.
COVID-19 has changed everything about the mission of Feed the Mass, including “how people receive food, how we cook it and how we volunteer.” Valentine noted that the virus has created obstacles for those who are already struggling.
“So many more people are losing their jobs, their health insurance and their personal securities. They’re in need of something consistent, something fundamental – care through food.”
The number of people affected by the virus is skyrocketing and when evictions start happening, there is going to be an even bigger need for sustenance.
“We are working hard alongside other great mutual aid organizations in the area to help support all those in need,” Valentine said.
“People’s generosity throughout the last nine months has been humbling and amazing,” he continued, adding that food donations come from individuals who want to help, partners like Oregon Foodbank, the Fresh Alliance Program, Food Fleet, The Wave NW, Heritage Foods, HLC Distributing, Urban Gleaners, local restaurants, local farms, food pantries and others.
Feed the Mass has 12-18 volunteers daily who help prepare raw goods, sort food donations, cook and package foods, wash dishes and deliver and pick-up donations.
“We have a strong, consistent volunteer team and we are looking to grow the network even more to allow for a broader reach into the community,” Valentine said. “Food connects every person in the world. I want to use it to create a community that is inclusive, diverse and accessible to everyone.”
Although the organization’s mission has changed drastically, Valentine feels it is still the same at heart.
“We are building community and nourishing that community through food,” he said, adding, “We don’t just serve food. We show that people matter and that we truly care for their well-being. No one is denied a meal.”
For more information about the organization, visit feedthemass.org.