Portland Monthly | By Ben McBee |
GRANDMA MILDRED RESER’S HOMEMADE POTATO SALAD was incredibly tasty. So much so, that in 1951, to help stretch the family’s budget, she began selling her signature recipe at Safeway grocery stores across Oregon. Pretty soon, it wasn’t just friends and family who got to enjoy the delicacy, and today, her potato salad is still Reser’s Fine Foods’ best-seller.
But, for the Reser family, feeding the community has always gone way beyond the supermarkets where their potluck-worthy sides and other products are sold. The Reser Family Foundation and Reser Fine Foods have supported Meals on Wheels People for many years, assisting the Portland-based non-profit in its fight against senior hunger.
“When my late husband Al Reser and I were first engaged, we spent long hours talking about the values we shared and how we wanted those values to be integrated within our family unit,” says Pat Reser, Mildred’s daughter-in-law and Board Chair of Reser’s Fine Foods. “We settled on four ‘pledges’ to one another, one of them being always giving back to the community in which we lived and worked. As our family grew, our sphere of interest expanded to take in a broader range of activities and needs within the community. I can’t tell you when Meals on Wheels became part of our annual giving. I just know that once we began, the desire to continue was born.”
From that private commitment, an immense public benefit flourished, impacting lives on a much larger scale. Pat regularly assisted on delivery routes and facilitated food donations (sometimes whole semi-truck-loads), supplying key additions to Meals on Wheels People’s Thanksgiving meals on several occasions.
Shortly after it was established in 2010, The Reser Family Foundation also became a benefactor for Meals on Wheels People. “Making a connection with people in our community is important to us,” says Mari Jo Prlain, the charity’s executive director. Through generous grants, the foundation has provided support for expanding services to minority seniors, the weekend frozen meal program, the second box meal program, outreach programs in East Multnomah and Washington County, as well as funding for the Central Kitchen.
“I look at leveraging our expertise, time, and funding for both the foundation and Reser’s Fine Foods to support seniors in our community to help them be the strongest they can be,” Prlain adds. “When the Meals on Wheels folks had trouble with their equipment, one of our production technical managers went to help them identify solutions for their packaging sealing line.”
Built by the food that brings families together, Reser has become a household name in Oregon. For the Reser family, that sense of home is the special ingredient for taking care of the people around them.
“In the fall of 2010 I was looking for somewhere I could volunteer,” says Laurie Reser, Pat’s daughter-in-law. “My kids were no longer in elementary school, where I liked to spend a lot of time, so I looked into the community for somewhere new. Two friends of mine needed help on their shared route so I started out filling in for them once a month. The next spring they both got promoted in their jobs and could no longer deliver any meals so it was just natural for me to take the route full time. This was a much better situation as I was able to get to know the seniors on a more personal level and they were able to put their trust in me. The little bit that I do for the seniors on my route I feel has given me such empathy towards not only seniors but our community as a whole,” Laurie says.
Like smiles around a dinner table, the Reser’s generosity shines in its employees as well. A group of them volunteer on Meals on Wheels People delivery routes around Hillsboro, where the company’s production facility is based, doing their part to ensure the seniors in their community receive the social connection and nutrition that all humans deserve.