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Potluck in the Park is cookin at Christ Church Episcopal

by: Larry Gilmore, 
Members of one of Christ Church Episcopal Parish’s Potluck in the Park teams pose proudly behind a lineup of casseroles ready for the oven.  Pictured are, from left, Liz Washburn, Helen Ball, Pattianne Carmical, Deacon Tom Stanwood, co-chair Alison Gilmore; in the back row are Ted Washburn and Brenda Hart.

Something has been cookin' at Christ Church Episcopal Parish in Lake Oswego each and every Sunday for the past 14-plus years - namely dozens of huge homemade casseroles to be served at Potluck in the Park in downtown Portland.

Potluck in the Park, started in 1991 by David Utzinger, serves close to 500 meals to the hungry, homeless and needy each Sunday afternoon in downtown Portland's O'Bryant Square, rain or shine.

Since Potluck in the Park began, church members have rolled up their sleeves and made casseroles each week. The group and its work is featured in the February/March issue of Taste of Home Magazine.

'Some of our people have been with the program since our church got involved,' said Alison Gilmore, co-coordinator with her husband Larry, of Christ Church's Cooking Outreach committee. She lists Susan and Chuck Mansfield, Augusta Shipsey and Helen Ball in that crowd of devoted volunteers. Gilmore figures the ministry involves 60 to 65 parishoners.

The church relies on generous donations of food from Oregon Culinary Institute and Western Culinary Institute to create the casseroles. Every Thursday and Friday, volunteers pick up 'leftovers' from the culinary schools. Whatever the classes have been focusing on that week becomes the base for the casseroles. There is always plenty of protein like lamb, beef, pork, and starches such as potatoes and rice.

The Gilmores review the food and determine what they need to purchase to fill in to make hearty, nutritious and delicious casserole dishes to serve on Sunday.

'The heart of the potluck is the casserole because it's warm and offers protein and substance,' said Gilmore. 'Our casseroles feed homeless, veterans in wheelchairs, single parents and college students.'

Sunday morning after the 9:15 a.m. service, the cooks appointed for that week chop, season and then bake a minimum of 13 11x17 casseroles, making certain to keep some vegetarian, and noting which if any have seafood in them. It takes a couple hours to get the casseroles in the oven. While they are baking under the watchful eye of one of the cooking crew, another team comes in to make lemonade, hot cocoa and coffee in 25 gallon urns.

One team gets the best and worst part of the operation: They will transport the feast to O'Bryant Square, help serve and visit with those who come to eat (the best part). They also get the privilege of hauling back the empty casseroles and urns and washing them (the worst part).

Often scout troups and other organizations bring beverages, breads or other foods, but Christ Church is the sole provider of the entrees. And they would welcome help from the community.

'This is a wonderful ministry,' said Gilmore. 'We'd really like to get more people from the community involved. We have one team made up of men not in our church who come once a month.

The need for feeding the hungry continues to grow. The Gilmores can remember when Potluck in the Park fed about 250 people, now the attendance is always between 400 and 500.

To find out more about helping out with Potluck in the Park contact Alison or Larry Gilmore at 503-449-6675 or contact Christ Church Episcopal Parish at 503-636-5618.

Christ Church Episcopal Parish is located at 1060 Chandler Road. Visit its Web site at www.ccparish.org for service times and more information.