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Helping people get back to work: Victory Project PDX

victory project pdx
The mission of Victory Project PDX is to channel people away from homelessness and into professional kitchens.

In the midst of both a housing crisis and a labor shortage, Victory Project PDX sees a way forward.

Many urban centers, particularly on the West Coast, have experienced large increases in the homeless population. According to a US Department of Housing and Urban Development study, Oregon has seen the number of homeless individuals rise 11.2% from 2016 to 2017. In California, the number has risen 15.5%. The rise in homelessness stands in stark relief to the continued expansion of the US economy that began in 2009. Even with low unemployment numbers, many individuals are unable to find jobs and escape life on the streets.

In Portland, Ore, Amalie Roberts and her organization, Victory Project PDX, are working to reverse the trend of rising homelessness. Her focus: job training for individuals who want to work, but are struggling to get a foot in the door. Restaurants are desperate for skilled workers, so the mission of Victory Project PDX is to channel people away from homelessness and into professional kitchens.

Amalie is a seasoned restaurant professional who began working in the industry while still in her teens. She’s opened two successful wine bars, as well as contributed to other notable Portland Restaurants.

I sat down with Amalie to discuss her organization, its goals, and how engaging a community can lead to solutions.

Poached: What is Victory Project PDX?
Amalie: Victory Project PDX is a response to the social and economic changes in Portland these days. As a longtime Portland food and wine person, the challenges that we face as a food community, and as a society, are just so different now. A few weeks back, I met the woman who used to own our local pet food store, living out of her car on the boulevard. Competition for resources is fierce and as we know housing and jobs are intricately connected. Restaurant owners have trouble finding workers for entry level jobs: dishwasher, prep cook, and busser. I still have friends asking me to cover shifts in their dish pit! Victory Project PDX is a nonprofit resource for people desiring employment in food service and for employers that need to plug those shifts on the calendar.

Poached: What are the goals of Victory PDX?
Amalie: We mentor people through the job acquisition process.  First, we work with social service agencies like Central City Concern, P:ear, and Insight Alliance.  Agencies such as these send us candidates and we employ them for an 8-week culinary exploration program with the end result as job placement.

Poached: What are you doing to achieve those goals?
Amalie: It is really about connecting with people you see as different from yourself. When you see your former dog food purveyor living out of her car, it really brings home the fact that much of the population we see on the streets, are our neighbors. By connecting our Victory Project team members to our local food cadre, we are building our larger community. Each week we have onsite meetings with local food businesses like Dragon Fly knives, Little T Bakery, or Olympia Provisions. Our employees get to experience the vastness of job opportunities and hiring agents can become acquainted with potential employees.

Poached: If someone wants to help, how can they help?
Amalie: If you have an agency that needs food for events, we would love to talk to you about that need.  We host events at our kitchen too! We have authors, filmmakers, poets, that come for an evening, we create meals, and talk, and think about ideas!  It is a really fun time so check out our events calendar for updates.  Also, we are on our first campaign to get 1000 Neighbors to contribute $5 a month to our nonprofit.  The price of a cup of coffee!  We are struggling to put more cash into our program as the need is great.  Please help us get there!

Poached: Since you’re just starting the organization, what have you learned about non-profits so far?
Amalie: Nonprofits operate, more or less, like any business.  Your first duty is to stay true to your mission.  Our imperative at Victory Project PDX is to help people move their lives forward through satisfying employment opportunities and to mentor them through obstacles.  Our supporting agenda is creating a larger and ever more cohesive community of caring food professionals who value our future and our past as a city.  Food is not about empire, it is about care and comfort, nurturing and acceptance.  As Massimo Bottura said “Food is a gesture of inclusion.”

Jack Hott

Jack Hott has more than 20 years experience in the hospitality industry. Along the way he’s flipped burgers, tossed pizzas and spilled a lot of wine on white table cloths.

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