Around 9am last Thursday, Rui Pires was already on his way to deliver food as he knocked on the door of a house on Washington Avenue in Portland.

The tires moved quickly, handing bags of green beans, lettuce, dried fish, flour and diapers to a young boy who opened the door.


Ari Snider

Pires opens a food box in the back of the delivery van. Tires used a used car import business in Angola and said his familiarity with complex logistics helps him manage the route of food aid delivery.

Then he cried goodbye to his parents, ran back to the white van loaded to the brim with boxes of food and supplies, and set off for the next house.

In the early days of the pandemic, the Angolan Community of Maine launched this mobile food aid service, which now provides pantry products and childcare equipment to more than 120 Angolan families, from Biddeford to Auburn, every two weeks. Most of the food is donated through Wayside Food programs, with some specific cultural items, such as salted fish, purchased through a special grant.

Last Thursday, the road involved 90 families in Portland, Westbrook, South Portland and Biddeford. Pires said he would be on the road until about nine or ten at night, but sometimes it’s even later – anyway, he said, he has to deliver all the food.

Pires is still working on his English, so the day I joined him for his delivery we spoke Portuguese, one of the many languages ​​of Angola.


Ari Snider

Pires carries a box of eggs from the van, as his son Rumer holds two packs of diapers.

Pires is a central pillar of this time-consuming volunteer effort. It’s a community service he’s done four days a month for about a year, to the point where he has all the way memorized.

Despite the long hours, he approached the day with a sense of humor and hurried to make jokes with the families along the way after calling each one to say he was pulling up to their door. Pires said he has become friends with so many people in the community through this work that sometimes he is overwhelmed with invitations to weddings, baptisms and parties.

Like many people in the Angolan community of Maine, Pires arrived in 2019 as an asylum seeker. He came with his youngest son, Rumer, who is now ten years old and was assisting in the birth process. Piraeus’ wife and two older sons, meanwhile, are staying at home in Luanda, the capital of Angola. Pires said he hopes to bring them to the US one day.

First, he said, he had to find a job. He had not been able to apply for one so far because asylum seekers could not apply for a work permit until one year after they had made their asylum application.

Pires said he recently got his work permit and that once his final documents were in order, he would start submitting job applications.


Ari Snider

Rumeri Pires, 10, overcomes a curb after throwing a bag of food at a house in Portland’s East End. This summer, he is helping his father on his way home.

Unfortunately, he said, getting a full-time job could mark the end of his involvement in food distribution – he finds it hard to imagine that a prospective employer would give him four days off every month for this volunteer effort. And, so far, no one else has grown up to take his place.

For now, however, the road continues. As we took the road slowly through Portland’s Bayland neighborhood, Pires noted the family shelter where he lived with Rumeri for about five months when they first arrived.

We retired to an apartment building, a few blocks from the shelter. As Pires gathered some beans, he sent Rumer to knock on the door of the next house.

He said leaving behind his life in Luanda and trying to reinvent himself in Portland while living in a crowded shelter was a stressful experience.


Ari Snider

Pires carries a meal in an apartment building on Washington Ave in Portland. He said that once he secures a full-time job, he will probably not be able to continue volunteering four days a month in the food aid program.

Now, however, while standing in the street, loading bags of food for families who had gone through many of the same challenges he had, Pires took a moment to reflect.

Speaking in the cautious tone of someone determined to rectify a difficult situation in a positive light, Pires said he and his son were too far away to go through difficult times.

Life, he said, using a Portuguese idiom, is not always a sea of ​​roses.

Ari Snider is a member of the Corps of America report.