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Portland cops 'guard' Fred Meyer dumpsters from hungry residents

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 2/18/2021 Rachel Sharp For Dailymail.com
a group of people sitting at a table: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

More than a dozen Portland police officers were drafted in to guard dumpsters outside a Fred Meyer from hungry residents seeking food that had been thrown out when the store freezers failed in the winter storms.

Around 14 cops descended on the Hollywood West Fred Meyer store in Northeast Portland, Oregon, Tuesday and threatened to arrest a group of around 20 activists who said they were trying to salvage the mountain of wasted produce to take to emergency weather shelters. 

Fred Meyer said its staff were concerned the food - which included everything from lobster tails to cheese and juices and joints of meat - was no longer safe to eat. 

The standoff came as some Portland residents have been left to survive without power for a week, leaving perishable food spoiling in their refrigerators and freezers after Storm Uri pummeled the US. 

As of early Thursday, 106,000 Oregonians were still without power with grid officials warning the damage to the power system was the worst seen in 40 years.  

a group of people walking across a snow covered car in a parking lot: More than a dozen Portland police officers were drafted in to guard dumpsters outside a Fred Meyer from hungry residents seeking food that had been thrown out when the store freezers failed in the winter storms. Pictured cops outside the store

More than a dozen Portland police officers were drafted in to guard dumpsters outside a Fred Meyer from hungry residents seeking food that had been thrown out when the store freezers failed in the winter storms. Pictured cops outside the store
© Provided by Daily Mail

Portland police said they were called to the store at 3030 Northeast Weidler Street at around 4pm Tuesday because a group of people were said to be arguing with staff and refusing to leave. 

Police said they didn't initially respond to the scene but received another call about 15 minutes later from an employee who said they felt the situation was escalating and feared there may be a physical confrontation.

Morgan Mckniff, a local activist who uses they and them pronouns, told Oregon Live they had gone to the store to get some of the tossed food after losing power at the weekend and running out of food. 

Mckniff said a group of employees were standing guard around the dumpsters to stop people salvaging the food.

At this point, McKniff said they started filming the staff who threatened to call the police if they didn't leave. 

'After that, other people started showing up and asking them, 'Why are you guys guarding a dumpster?' Mckniff said. 

There were reportedly around 15 hungry residents and activists on the scene when officers showed up and stood guard around the dumpsters packed full of food.

Police said in a press release that there were 14 officers at one point including a lieutenant, a sergeant, six officers, and three trainees who were there with their training officers.

McKniff told the New York Times some of the officers threatened the group with physical force if they didn't leave. 

a bunch of items that are sitting on a table: The standoff came as some Portland residents have been left to survive without power for a week, leaving perishable food spoiling in their refrigerators and freezers after Storm Uri pummeled the US

The standoff came as some Portland residents have been left to survive without power for a week, leaving perishable food spoiling in their refrigerators and freezers after Storm Uri pummeled the US
© Provided by Daily Mail

Why did Fred Meyer toss the food? 

Fred Meyer said the food was thrown by staff because it was 'no longer safe' to be donated. 

'Unfortunately, due to loss of power at this store, some perishable food was no longer safe for donation to local hunger relief agencies,' it said in a statement.

'Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk foodborne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologize for the confusion.' 

Guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency states that food in freezers will remain safe for around 48 hours and food in refrigerators for around four hours after power first goes out. 

Under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, the business could have donated the food when its power first went out and would have been protected from potential lawsuits because they were donated within the safety window and they were acting in good faith.

Food shelters and aid groups across Oregon including Blanchet House and Feed the Mass often accept food being thrown due to power outages, reported Eater

Fred Meyer told the outlet the store had lost power for 48 hours during the storm but it is not clear if 48 hours had passed at the point the food was tossed. 

It's also not clear if the store had made efforts to donate the food before it was spoiled. 

Another witness, activist Juniper Simonis, told Oregon Live the police threatened to arrest the group for trespassing. 

'I'm just interacting with officers and trying to get their information, and then they say, 'We're going to arrest you if you don't leave,' and threatened me with trespassing,' Simonis said. 

Officers estimated the crowd grew to about 50 people, police said.

Police said they tried to explain the food was unfit for consumption but said 'no subject in the crowd was willing to have an open dialogue with the officers and continued to shout insults at them and store employees.' 

Police said officers were there to 'preserve peace, prevent violence, and restore order' and that no arrests or citations were issued and no force was used.

The police left about an hour after arriving and the group of residents and activists moved in and collected food they deemed salvageable. 

The activists said it was distributed to 11 community refrigerators around the city and to families in need.

Fred Meyer faced a backlash over the incident at a time when many residents are struggling to feed their families amid the winter storms.  

Oregon Rep. Barbara Smith Warner blasted the grocery store chain for its 'wrong priorities' on Twitter. 

'This is the definition of wrong priorities. I know you can do better. Please use an emergency spoilage plan, instead of misusing police,' she wrote. 

Comedian Jenny Yang tweeted: 'THEY ARE USING ARMED GUARDS TO PROTECT A DUMPSTER OF PERFECTLY GOOD FOOD. this is not the America we should live in. our priorities are completely backwards. the real trash in this situation is @Fred_Meyer.' 

Fred Meyer responded to the criticism in a statement Wednesday saying the food was 'no longer safe for donation' and said the company donates 5.5 million pounds of food to food banks each year. 

text © Provided by Daily Mail graphical user interface, text: Fred Meyer faced a backlash over the incident at a time when many residents are struggling to feed their families amid the winter storms. Oregon Rep. Barbara Smith Warner blasted the grocery store chain for its 'wrong priorities' on Twitter © Provided by Daily Mail Fred Meyer faced a backlash over the incident at a time when many residents are struggling to feed their families amid the winter storms. Oregon Rep. Barbara Smith Warner blasted the grocery store chain for its 'wrong priorities' on Twitter

'Unfortunately, due to loss of power at this store, some perishable food was no longer safe for donation to local hunger relief agencies.

'Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk food borne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologize for the confusion,' they said. 

'Fred Meyer donates 5.5 million pounds of safe, nutritious surplus food to our food bank partners and communities every year. We are engaging our store teams with this important reminder of our established processes in situations like this.' 

But the activists on the scene believe the incident shows the value the city puts on people in need. 

graphical user interface, text

© Provided by Daily Mail

'The people who were there weren't there for selfish reasons — they were there to get food to distribute to hungry people around the city,' Simonis told Oregon Live. 

'There are mutual aid groups that have been helping feed people at warming centers, because the city doesn't have enough resources to feed them.'

More than 350,000 homes and businesses lost power in Portland at the weekend as Storm Uri plowed into the area.

Some homes have now been without power for over a week and desperate residents flocked to emergency warming shelters and hotels for refuge.

'These are the most dangerous conditions we've ever seen in the history of PGE,' Dale Goodman, director of utility operations, said. 

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