Former homeless chef feeding clients of program that helped him

Special Reports

Transition Projects in need of meal donations amid novel coronavirus pandemic

Ron Thomas said he started at the bottom, being homeless in Portland, but programs like the ones at Transition Projects helped him start his own business. May 15, 2020 (KOIN/Danny Peterson).

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ron Thomas was on a comfortable trajectory with his small catering business, Riptz City Wings/Riptz City Eats, when someone from his past who once helped him called him for help.

Roma Peyser is the Director of Development for Transition Projects, a Portland nonprofit that manages multiple facilities to assist people experiencing homelessness.

Peyser was in a bind when the novel coronavirus hit because it hindered volunteer efforts to help feed the nonprofit’s clients. Normally, different organizations come in with food and cook fresh hot meals to those experiencing homelessness, using a commercial kitchen that Transition Projects operates, called Doreen’s Place. Because of COVID-19, the volunteers could no longer make the meals.

“When someone calls me and I know that they helped me in my life, and for them to call me, I feel an honor and a privilege that she called me for help,” Thomas explained.

Though Thomas could’ve carried on with his food delivery and catering business, he chose to accept Peyser’s offer of working for Transition Projects full time to cook the clients meals instead.

Ron Thomas of Riptz City Wings/Riptz City Eats is working for Transition Projects out of their commercial kitchen at their Doreen’s Place facility to help feed the homeless. May 14, 2020 (photo courtesy Roma Peyser/Transition Projects).

Now, Thomas is creating over 100 meals per day, Monday through Friday, using a menu he created and food donated from Oregon Food Bank.

He is getting paid for the work, enough to get by, but said he’s really interested in the work to fulfill a need for those in a position he was once in.

“For me, it was a very rewarding job because here it is I’m on the outside as being a business owner and came through that program before,” Thomas said. “And I knew more of the culture of it ’cause I had experienced it.”

The meals are free for participants and delivered to various Transition Projects facilities around town.

“They’re getting a healthy meal. And the first thing the manager said was ‘hey, you know people are actually sleeping the whole night now.’ So it’s good soul food, it gets into the soul,” Thomas said.

Thomas had spent some weeks in a Transition Project facility back in 2004 when he was experiencing homelessness and from there went through other programs around town, like Central City Concern and Mercy Corps, to acquire the skills of becoming his own small business owner.

For two years, Thomas mentored under the restaurant owners of Horn of Africa in Northeast Portland. There he honed his skills and gained clientele, operating his business out of the restaurant on the weekends.

“Ron’s story is one of hope, grit and compassion. His work is integral to our mission and we’re blessed to have him on the @transitionprojects team!” read an Instagram post from Transition Projects.

The organization emphasized they are still in desperate need for meal funds to feed the residents in their nine shelters and that donations can be made at this link.

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