Who we are and what we do
Milk Crate Kitchen was started in April of 2020.
Our founder Michael Casper was sitting at home on a plastic milk crate, trying to figure out what was going to happen next. There was so much uncertainty in the early stages of the pandemic, many of us struggling and anxiety-riddled with what was unfolding --people losing jobs and everyone coming to grips with not being able to find toilet paper. His plans to travel through South East Asia had been cancelled and his job had laid him off. He wanted to do something to help the community, but didn't know what. His late grandmother used to tell him -- "If you don't know what to do, do what you know".
Taking the knowledge and experience that he learned as a trained chef in Portland with his desire to help others, he set out to provide "a night of not having to cook" for a few friends and families. At that time, restaurants weren't open, so people were relying on what the grocery stores had available. His thought was, "if I can provide a night off from worrying about dinner, maybe it could give people a sense of normalcy." Casper used his own stimulus checks and unemployment money to fund this mutual aid project. He was thinking about the service industry workers, the freelancers, caregivers, the front-liners, and many essential workers. People who were not eligible for government assistance such as unemployment and stimulus checks. By the second week the number of requests had doubled, and soon climbed increasingly higher with each week, peaking at 52 families.
In April of 2021, Casper met Sherielyn Gardner via the local Portland mutual aid circle. She runs collaborative fundraisers centered around community and engages small businesses, private individuals, influencers, and local nonprofit agencies. Her corporate experience from HR, marketing, sales, and relationship-building coupled with her knack for creating a space for people to be in community paved the way for her own mutual aid project called Pay it Forward in PDX. Driven and inspired by her passion for food access, she held a fundraiser benefiting Milk Crate Kitchen and opened doors to food source connections and other helpful resources. Casper made a leap and registered MCK PDX Inc as a registered nonprofit with 501c3 status on April 23, 2021. The organization remains 100% community-supported since its inception in May 2020: volunteer-run and donation-funded. To this date, the organization has supplied over 5,272 family meals, each at zero cost to them, in and around the Portland area. Each family meal feeds up to 4 people, making that a total count of over 21,088 individual meals. The families served come from a diverse social, racial, and economic backgrounds including but not limited to: low-income, students, single parents, elderly, disabled, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+.
Casper and Sherielyn are both passionate about reducing hunger and fighting for food security. They make sure every dollar contributed is put to the absolute best use, feeding each family for less than $10. They seek out in-kind donations from local farmers, food hubs, and businesses and utilize existing "extras" to help keep food costs at a minimum. All money raised from financial donations are used to pay for buying quality food ingredients, kitchen rental, and packaging supplies.
Check out our interview with local news KGW8 and consider supporting us today!
Michael Casper (he/him/his)
Sherielyn Gardner (she/her/hers)