For more than 50 years, SnowCap Community Charities has been feeding and clothing their neighbors in east and mid-Multnomah County, often without anyone even noticing or being aware of their existence. They took a step to change that on a cloudy Friday afternoon this past month, holding a pop-up barbecue to thank their volunteers and donors as well as treat their normal clientele to a social event.
The cookout was attended by a healthy crowd representing a broad cross-section of the different types of stakeholders involved in the charity. There was a buffet with meat and veggie burgers, as well as hot dogs, all the fixings one could hope for, fresh fruit, baked goods and other treats. SnowCap staff and volunteers were working the grill, handing out food and enjoying the day with the clients seated in the garden. In addition to housing their robust food and clothing services, SnowCap also has an overflowing community garden tended by their clients.
SnowCap achieved the successful turnout for this event largely through the same methods with which they’ve thrived for over half a century: word of mouth and a great reputation. “We are the largest distributor of food assistance in the state of Oregon. We’re founding members of the Oregon Food Bank, so we’ve been serving Multnomah County since 1967,” says Kirsten Wageman, SnowCap’s executive director. The group sprouted from church groups and was one of many Community Action Programs (CAPs) that were a joint strategy for charitable giving and community rehabilitation in the 1960s and 1970s. While nearly all the other CAPs have folded or merged with other organizations, SnowCap continues and now boasts nine full-time staff members and more than a thousand volunteers. “If it happens here, a volunteer probably did it. With only nine of us on staff, it would be impossible [to do all the work on our own],” says Wageman.
SnowCap barely has to advertise its presence or events. Wageman says she doesn’t even know how people know about it to come for help. “We’re not sure, but they all make it here, “says Wageman. “The Oregon Food Bank lists us as a resource; we’re sort of like their model pantry.”
SnowCap has a unique system wherein clients are free to come once a month and collect three to five days’ worth of food, plus clothing and often toiletries and other sundry goods. Further setting apart their system is that the clients can come and “shop” for goods in a pantry that resembles a supermarket. This focus on freedom and dignity for the clients is one of the things that make the charity so long-standing and beloved by the people who support it.
Marsha Kitchen was one of the many donors who dropped by to have something to eat and see the fruits of their charitable donations. “We became acquainted with the organization through church, and we love how they work,” says Kitchen. “They’re just so responsive. And they’re good stewards of all that they have, and that means a lot to my husband and me. It’s been a good partnership.”
At the barbecue, there were also boxes prepared with special items, toiletries and other non-food necessities. There was also a cart full of tomato and sweet potato vegetable starts, which were given away to anyone wanting to grow some food at home. While these other items were featured today, food and clothing are really the mainstays that SnowCap works with. “We stay laser-focused on those two things, because we feel like we do a good job,” says Wageman, who was flanked by her young daughter and a host of friends as she ate, laughed and led tours of the facilities for the many donors, like Marsha Kitchen, who had never even seen the operation up close, despite providing years of financial support.
Rounding out the colorful assortment of Portlanders enjoying the day were the firemen and the mermaids. A local unit and their truck represented Portland Fire Bureau, which was a hit with many of the children and seniors present. Meanwhile, holding court in the garden was Grandmer Orchid and Yl’luria Watersong, who were hanging out, posing for pictures and entertaining both young and old. The two are part of Portland’s bustling mermaid performance art scene and donated their time to SnowCap for the day.
Currently, food and clothing donations, as well as support from donors and volunteers, is very strong, and SnowCap is always accepting new clients. “Anyone who lives east of 82nd Avenue and within Multnomah County is welcome to come once a month,” says Wageman. “We’re a very stable organization; we’re not always doing the newest thing, but we’re always providing food, and we’ve never had to shut our doors from running out.”
SnowCap is at 17805 S.E. Stark St. behind the Rockwood Center. You can reach them by phone at 503-674-8785 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are accepted at 17788 S.E. Pine St.