First Advisor

Megan Horst

Term of Graduation

Spring 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Urban Studies (M.U.S.)


Urban Studies and Planning




Food relief -- Oregon -- Portland -- Citizen participation, Voluntarism -- Oregon -- Portland, Emergency management -- Oregon, COVID-19 Pandemic (2020- )



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 67 pages)


Emergency response agencies commonly focus on how hard infrastructure will interact with extreme climatic and geologic events: bridges during an earthquake and buildings following a tornado, for example. Peoples' actual experience of these extreme events vary, however, based on socially constructed consequences of natural hazard events and their interaction with a depleted or robust social safety net.

Previous research shows people living with depleted social safety nets and who experience a natural hazard event are likely to help where they see disaster. Individuals consistently form groups, called emergent groups, to organize their efforts. This research explored emergent groups that formed in Portland, Oregon, to address food insecurity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-two emergent groups were identified. Nine organizers participated in structured interviews about the groups they helped form. Six of those groups remain active after two years; three of which are now codified as tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations. Those groups now have paid staff, contracts with social service agencies to provide regular meals, and plan to provide additional services in the future. This research found emergent groups were disproportionately led by people of color with lived experience of poverty who struggled to finance their efforts. Anticipating the formation of emergent groups could mitigate disasters following hazard events. Creating streamlined financial support pathways for emergent groups could lead to more equitable and flexible resource distribution for the communities most impacted by hazard events.


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