Marta Williams, Catholic Charities of Oregon’s (CCO) new intern for Germaine’s Kitchen and Café (GKC), shares her passion for supplying fresh and healthy foods to those who need it most and why she loves working with CCO.
“My goal is literally to feed the hungry of Portland…You may never be able to cure houselessness or homelessness, but you can cure hunger one meal at a time.”
Originally from the Portland/Beaverton area, Marta joined the Army in 1988 where she served for nearly 30 years. Marta wanted to travel all over the world, particularly to Germany, and the Army seemed like the perfect opportunity to fulfill that dream. “One of the most amazing things has been to have meals with people from different cultures and countries.”
Marta moved back to the area during the beginning of the pandemic and stayed on her sister’s farm in Molalla, Oregon. She started gardening there as a fun outlet during a time when there wasn’t much else to do. Before she knew it, their small garden had grown into almost a half-acre. “We just had so much abundance; we literally couldn’t give it all away.” Marta and her sister shared their abundance with people from the church, fire department, police department, and anyone they could think of in the Molalla area.
Marta started considering this garden’s potential. “I thought, ‘it would be cool to have our little garden turn into something that kids could really learn from’…but I really wanted to be involved with serving veterans in some way too.”
Marta was inspired to move back to Portland and begin grad school at Portland State University (PSU). She is currently in their Sustainable Food Systems Certification Program. Through her classes, permaculture and geography of food, Marta learned about food insecurity. “It touched my heart…The more classes I took, the more I learned about food insecurity. Seeing the homeless population everywhere [I realized], you can’t separate hungry people from hungry veterans.”
A parishioner of St. Pius X, the message that Marta kept receiving since she had returned was, “feed the hungry”, “feed people who need it”. Meanwhile, Kelsey Allan, CCO’s Food Pantry Operations Manager, had reached out to Marta’s advisor about an internship opportunity with Germaine’s Kitchen and Café. “I thought, ‘Please pick me, please pick me!’.” Most of Marta’s experience at this point had been dealing with veteran’s experiencing houselessness and food insecurity. She believed this internship would be a great opportunity to work with other populations.
After holding the position for a few months now, Marta shared, “It has been the greatest experience ever…Chef Jon and Kelsey are such a joy…to go to work every day and work with them… [they are] two of the most caring and interested people in what they are doing.” Chef Jon even secured a contract to deliver meals to veterans in Portland through the month of September. Marta is thrilled to be able to support food insecure veterans in addition to the other populations Catholic Charities serves.
Marta works at Catholic Charities Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Typically, she supports GKC in prepping meals for delivery and supports Kelsey with Germaine’s Marketplace by loading, and unloading deliveries, and stocking the three food pantries located at Clark Family Center (CFC), Esperanza Court, and Sacred Heart.
One thing that has surprised Marta in her internship, is the opportunity for connection. Whenever she and Kelsey visit the different pantry locations, especially Sacred Heart, they talk with the residents about what’s going on in their lives and what needs they have that aren’t being met. Marta and Kelsey discovered that some residents have special dietary requirements and now they are able to stock the shelves with things like vegan cheese or gluten free bread when those items become available.
Communication can be a barrier. There was one couple Marta and Kelsey had helped at CFC on several occasions and English was not their first language. After troubleshooting several languages one afternoon, thanks to a translator app, they learned that the couple lived at Sacred Heart. They had been trekking with their backpacks to CFC every week, not realizing there was a food pantry located right in their building.
“The need is great,” shared Marta. “We need more volunteers to support the program but it’s hard to find people [like me] that can volunteer in a part or full-time capacity.”
With the recent cohort of GKC students graduated, Marta is now helping to prep meals for delivery for the Hot Meals of Unhoused Neighbors initiative. “My total happy place is anywhere in the kitchen.” Marta graduated from culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in 2005 and is excited for more opportunities to cook with Chef Jon and his sous chef, Shaili Perekh.
What’s next for Marta? With one more year in her program at PSU, Marta would like to take a Master Gardeners class. “My goal is literally to feed the hungry of Portland…You may never be able to cure houselessness or homelessness, but you can cure hunger one meal at a time.” While Marta wants food security for all, she also wants fresh foods and produce for all. “I imagine a food truck that just drives around and hands out fresh vegetables to people in need.” Marta dreams of having a garden space of her own where she can donate vegetables to different organizations who will distribute them to people in need. “Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing to have a supply of fresh vegetables that you can count on…that doesn’t come from a can?”
Thank you, Marta, for your commitment and dedication to this work. Your passion is truly inspiring, and we can’t wait to see how you continue to change our community for the better. Happy National Intern Day from everyone here at Catholic Charities of Oregon!