According to the U.S. Census, East Portland is the fastest growing part of the city and home to many of the area’s youngest residents. With only a quarter of the city’s total population, East Portland is where 40 percent of the children live.
This week in our series,”East of 82nd” we’ll explore what’s available for children there. Where can they play? How safe is it for them to walk in their neighborhood?
We begin our series with a look at the availability of affordable, fresh food.
You can share your East Portland stories on our Tumblr page.
Naniloa Bannister likes being the responsible big sister. Every day after school the 8-year-old gets a snack ready for herself and her little sister Adrianna.
“I usually open a can of food for us,” says Naniloa, as she works a can opener around a can of SpaghettiOs.
Adrianna and Naniloa live with their mom Casey Bannister in a compact, two-bedroom apartment near Burnside and 151st Avenue in East Portland. Today, the cupboard and the fridge are well-stocked. That’s because Bannister just made a trip to the grocery store.
“We eat strawberries, and we drink juice,” says four year-old Adrianna, as she peers into the fridge.
Bannister doesn’t have a car, so she usually takes the bus or light rail to get groceries.
“I want to get to the grocery store and I want to get a whole bunch of stuff but I have to remember that I can’t carry all those things home,” says Bannister. “It can be challenging at times, and tiring. But you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes.”
Bannister lives in part of Portland that that the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert.” Those are regions where it’s hard to find of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy unprocessed foods.
Forty percent of Portland residents live more than a mile away from a grocery store, according to the USDA. Many live East of 82nd Avenue. In this part of town, five major grocery stores have closed in three years — most recently a Safeway at 82nd and Burnside.
The closest grocery store to Bannister is a mile and a half away, and that can make walking or biking a challenge.
“I’ve had to stop a couple times because the groceries are so heavy and either sore on my shoulder or on my hands, especially when they were plastic bags,” says Bannister. “They would cut off the circulation in my fingers and I’d have to stop and take a break.”
Neighborhood activists have been asking for more fresh food options here for years.
A Grocery Outlet discount store opened in February on 122nd Avenue. But the demographics of this area won’t support a high end grocer.
In some outer East Portland neighborhoods, more than 30 percent of residents live in poverty. The median income here is $10,000 - $25,000 less than the median income for the Portland metro area as a whole. Only two of 24 Portland farmers’ markets are located East of 82nd Avenue.
Bannister divides her grocery dollars between Safeway and Winco. She’s unemployed right now, and she gets income assistance from the state. She plans meals to a tee, based on what she can afford and what groceries she can carry in her arms.
“Spaghetti, baked chicken with broccoli or corn, or steamed rice,” says Bannister, listing some of her typical meals.
When money gets tight at the end of the month, sometimes she collects cans and bottles for the deposit money. She dreads any unexpected costs.
Saul Orduna is familiar with that feeling. He’s a single dad with shared custody of two young kids.
“I try to provide them as much as I can,” says Orduna. A couple of years ago he went through a rough time. He lost his job and moved his family to a homeless shelter. They lived there for five months before Orduna found work and was able to afford a one-bedroom apartment across from the train tracks in outer Northeast Portland.
Now, Orduna works nights at a group home for disabled people. He earns about $1,300 each month.
“My utility payments come up to $200,” says Orduna. “Plus my rent is about $600 a month. And I have to use probably $100, $120 for gas every month. So the rest, I have it for groceries.”
That leaves about $380. Sometimes that’s not enough to feed a family of three, says Orduna. So twice a month, he gets food assistance from a program at Shaver Elementary.
Six and seven-year-old Andrea and Ethan Orduna are helping their dad pick out groceries at the school food pantry.
Any family with kids at Shaver can get groceries here. Tables are piled with boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. Shelves are lined with bread, juice and other staples, and there’s milk and eggs in fridges.
“Daddy can we get this?” says Andrea, pointing to fresh strawberries and pineapple.
Orduna says yes, and looks at the other fresh fruits and vegetables piled high on the table. “So, let’s see-bananas… asparagus …. You want grapes?”
Orduna gets half, sometimes two thirds of his groceries here. There are more than 50 food pantries East of 82nd Avenue in Portland. For many low-income families, these services help fill the “food desert” gap.
Orduna relies on this kind of help to put food on the table for Ethan and Andrea.
Orduna says he’d love to be in a position where he doesn’t need the services. But he says he’s better off than he was two years ago, when he was living with his kids at the homeless shelter.
“I’m happy just to have them here with me. Just to spend time with them, to see them sleeping and see them smiling. Those are the best moments, when I’m able to provide for them.”
Five-year-old Andrea loves family dinners at home. “Some of my favorite things are food Daddy makes, and macaroni and cheese and sopa.”
And with a little help from the food pantry, those are all options for dinner tonight.
Many of the sources for this series came to OPB via our Public Insight Network. Do you live or work East of 82nd Avenue in Portland? You can share your stories, photos and more on our tumblr.