PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After a local chef was laid off in 2020, he started cooking dinners for his friends and eventually several families — the number of which kept multiplying.

Out of this grew the idea for a new non-profit that aims to help families who are struggling. Michael Casper did not plan on founding an organization or preparing close to 500 meals each week for families across the region. However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

“My grandma always said if you don’t know what to do, do what you know and I know how to cook, so I just started cooking for my friends,” Casper explained. 

Michael Casper and Sherielyn Gardner partnered together to help families struggling through their nonprofit, Milk Crate Kitchen (KOIN).

Casper was using his stimulus money and unemployment checks for the meals he’d make and then deliver himself. He called it Milk Crate Kitchen — and every week, the number of meal requests kept growing. 

Sherielyn Gardner saw Casper’s efforts via Instagram. With a background in business development, she wanted to help.

“My passion is always [about] how do I share what I know with people,” Gardner explained.

Gardner helped Casper take Milk Crate Kitchen to the next level, getting the non-profit resources and donations so he no longer had to pay for the food out of his own pocket. They also gathered volunteers to help drive delivery orders, which have now grown over 130 per week.

Milk Crate Kitchen posts the meal for the week on Mondays, allowing families until Wednesday to sign up if they need one with no questions asked.

On Thursday, volunteers cook for 5.5 hours. On Friday, they portion the meals. By Saturday, a dozen or so volunteer drivers are out delivering the prepared food. 

Because all the work is done by volunteers, no one is getting paid. However, they do have the comfort of knowing they’re helping people from all walks of life who are struggling.

“If somebody is humble enough to ask for food, we’re gracious enough to provide it,” Casper said. “That’s basically what the key point is.”

If you’d like to learn more about volunteering or donating to Milk Crate Kitchen, check out their website.