Iliff Alumnus Feeds Portland’s Hungry

Rev. Dr. John Paul Davis’ Clay Street Table provides 70,000-plus Meals of Food and Groceries

John Paul Davis

(DENVER) — Providing 30,000 meals a year plus enough groceries for over 40,000 more might seem like a daunting task to some, but not to the Rev. Dr. John Paul Davis, Iliff School of Theology graduate (DMIN ’08), and director of Clay Street Table, a Portland-based meals program and food pantry.

“Clay Street Table is a busy place. We’re successful because a lot of people care and are working together to make it happen,” Davis said. With a focus on building a caring community around the Table, he draws volunteers from the parish where the program is housed, as well as other churches, civic groups, schools, colleges, and from the community served by the program. The free food pantry is “shopping style,” because, Davis empathized, “there’s dignity in having a choice about what food you eat.” On Wednesday nights, a meal for over 100 homeless youth is often prepared by adults experiencing homelessness themselves. At “The Cooks’ Supper” which follows, everyone who comes for the meal takes part in making it.

Located within Portland’s urban St. Stephen’s Episcopal Parish and surrounded by more than 1,000 units of subsidized housing, Clay Street Table has a volunteer coalition of more than 150 – many of whom are those who originally came for a meal or groceries and stayed to help serve others.

“We are the center of a caring community and daily we’re working to take care of one another. We are putting meals on the table six days a week and providing a food pantry that includes meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, fresh milk, canned and dry goods, and staples such as peanut butter and jelly, pasta, rice and bread.”

Clay Street Table traces its roots back 30 years to a small group of women from the parish who made sandwiches for people living on the streets. Today, the ministry offers a meals program and monthly food pantry to address the growing issue of hunger and homelessness in Portland, a city that experienced a 17 percent increase in homelessness in a two-year period. Recognized as a partnering agency of Oregon Food Bank since 2011, the program receives nearly 3,000 pounds of food from the Food Bank each week, plus donations from individuals and groups.

“The doors at Clay Street Table are open to anyone who’s hungry. We’re offering meals, groceries, and community. We’re a place where everyone belongs,” added Davis. “What our ministry is about is providing physical and spiritual sustenance to vulnerable people who often feel isolated and alone, particularly those experiencing homelessness or transitioning into housing. Walking with those in need is how we move beyond simply feeding the needy.”

Davis, who is ordained in the United Church of Christ, says his board supports his creative ministry and ongoing personal spiritual development. With their blessing, he annually returns to Iliff for study leave.

“Iliff taught me a lot, and it continues to. I look forward to my yearly visit with Rev. Dr. Cathie Kelsey and our transforming conversations reflecting on the ministry of creating a beloved community at Clay Street Table. I’m reminded with each visit that the gospel is shared in all sorts of places and in all sorts of ways. At Clay Street Table we are inviting people into a community that breaks bread together and shares food with hungry people. We are a caring community that gathers around a Table.”