As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the needs of the most vulnerable individuals in our country and community have been amplified. Further, many Americans are finding themselves in need of financial and food assistance for the first time as they grapple with new employment challenges in the wake of the virus. As all services and organizations are now categorized as “essential” and “non-essential,” nothing is more essential than the basic human needs for food and shelter.
In downtown Portland, Blanchet House is well practiced in the art of “essential services.” For decades, volunteers at Blanchet House have served breakfast, lunch and dinner to homeless and vulnerable Oregonians six days a week with no questions asked. More than a meal, staff and volunteers offer guests a respite from the rain and cold, “a place to sit and feel human again,” as well as clothing and residential programs. In these desperate times, Blanchet House and its volunteers are rising with creativity and compassion to fill growing needs and comply with new regulations.
On March 16, Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered all indoor meal services to cease as part of social distancing measures to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus. No longer able to welcome guests into its dining room, Blanchet House made an immediate pivot to serving to-go meals and drinks. As volunteer availability has decreased and demand for meals has risen by 50 percent in comparison to last year, its budget escalated with costs for to-go containers, increased security measures, hiring temporary staff, and purchasing more food. Nevertheless, Blanchet House continues to provide wraparound services with a mental health and drug counselor speaking to guests in line, answering questions and ensuring compliance with the six-foot distancing regulation.
Selfless staff, brave volunteers and critically needed food donations continue to keep these services operational on behalf of our neighbors in downtown Portland. In a time of great need and uncertainty, we look to the work of Blanchet House as an example of hope, generosity and compassion, qualities which are now more essential than ever.