A stand-off developed between Portland Police Bureau officers and residents seeking access to recently discarded food.
Food tossed out during a winter storm power outage sparked another flashpoint between Portland activists who saw an opportunity to feed the hungry — and grocery store employees and authorities, who said the residents were trespassing.
At the incident’s apex, 11 Portland Police Bureau officers set up watch near two outdoor dumpsters full of discarded merchandise at the Hollywood neighborhood Fred Meyer, 3030 N.E. Weidler St., around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16 — though much of the police deployment departed after about 10 minutes.
Juniper Simonis, an environmental biologist who tracks use of police munitions at protests, said once police left, the group of dumpster divers discovered a cornucopia of delights they thought shouldn’t have gone to waste.
“It was literally the inside of every refrigerator and freezer in the store,” Simonis said, “including the display fridges that are only keeping things cold because people like to buy them cold, not because they’re perishable.”
The discarded items included cold brew coffee, bottled hibiscus tea, almond milk, juice, pickles, tortilla shells, boxes of beef, mountains of cheese, salmon, shrimp, lobster tails, yogurt and butter. Some of the boxed food appeared to have been stacked, perhaps by a forklift, and once the group had opened the receptacles’ side doors, they didn’t find any trash beneath the initial layer, according to Simonis.
“Stuff spilled out and it was good food. Literally able to feed thousands,” the 36-year-old said.
When I arrived on at the Hollywood @Fred_Meyer in Portland this evening, I was greeted by 12 @PortlandPolice officers who were apparently guarding two dumpsters full of food that mutual aid orgs were trying to distribute and hungry folks were trying to eat
— Dr. Juniper L Simonis; The Professor (@JuniperLSimonis) February 17, 2021
In a news release, police said they first learned of the incident around 4 p.m., after employees reported that residents were “arguing” with them and taking “exception to their work.” Another employee called back at 4:17 p.m. claiming the situation had escalated, with the crowd eventually growing from 20 to 50 people, according to the release. Simonis said the crowd was closer to 10 people when police were at the scene, but grew to maybe two dozen once the food was accessible.
“The position of the employees of the store was that the food was spoiled and required to be disposed of due to lack of refrigeration. The food was unfit for consumption or donation,” according to the news release. “Officers also tried to explain this to the group of people. No subject in the crowd was willing to have an open dialogue with the officers and continued to shout insults at them and store employees.”
Authorities said the number of officers deployed included one lieutenant, one sergeant, six officers and three trainees who were observing their training officers.
But Simonis, a prominent local scientist, said the police wouldn’t provide their badge numbers or names when asked.
One officer asked the store manager to tell Simonis they were trespassing shortly after they arrived, then said Simonis could be arrested if they refused to leave, Simonis recalled. By the time they had reparked their car, the officers were leaving and most of the store employees had gone back inside. Ultimately, no arrests were made during the incident.
In a statement, Fred Meyer or “Freddy’s” — a storied Portland area chain now owned by the country’s second-largest retailer, Kroger — said the company donates 5.5 million pounds of surplus stock to food banks each year, and will remind their managers of the established donation protocol.
“Unfortunately, due to loss of power at this store, some perishable food was no longer safe for donation to local hunger relief agencies,” the company said. “Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk food-borne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologize for the confusion.”
Simonis said the entire situation was absurd, highlighting that the 300,000 Oregon residents who lost power during the recent winter storm could have received a good meal if the liability issues had been resolved.
“At the same time that the city and the county are struggling to feed people in need, they’re willing to spend resources that could have been used to support people,” Simonis said. “We’re talking about stuff that wasn’t going to expire for weeks.”
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