Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Jeffrey McDaniel speaks during a brunch to benefit Blanchet House. After getting sober, McDaniel lived at the Old Town residence while gaining meaning by serving others, including via the massive Blanchet feeding program. 

Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel

Jeffrey McDaniel speaks during a brunch to benefit Blanchet House. After getting sober, McDaniel lived at the Old Town residence while gaining meaning by serving others, including via the massive Blanchet feeding program. 

About a year ago, Jeffrey McDaniel sat on the rail of the Ross Island Bridge and scrutinized the Willamette River 12 stories below. Would it do the job?

McDaniel, a chef, had moved to Portland for a woman. But his excessive drinking and yet another DUI arrest prompted her to walk. 

“I felt worthless and without any power or control,” says McDaniel, who had started smoking marijuana at age 11. 

Instead of jumping, he checked into De Paul Treatment Center downtown. After completion, he moved less than a mile to Blanchet House for the next step — staying sober and rebuilding a life. About 40 men can live at Blanchet at any given time. The house offers its residents a sober environment, case management and help finding a job.

McDaniel found meaning by helping Blanchet serve 1,000 meals a day to people on the streets. 

Meanwhile, he worked the 12 steps like a pack horse.  

“I’ve learned the strong are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about,” he told a crowd of benefactors gathered in the Blanchet House dining room Feb. 26. 

McDaniel now has a job in a high-end restaurant and lives in a Northwest Portland apartment. He is a straight-A student at Portland Community College where he studies addiction counseling. 

Life is not carefree; he has to work it. But McDaniel considers himself blessed. “I can still do whatever I want,” he says. “God just changed my wants.” 

The annual fundraising brunch where McDaniel spoke is a key event for Blanchet House of Hospitality, founded in 1952 by a group of young University of Portland graduates. The men had been inspired by Father Francis Kennard, who told them that big charitable enterprises had lost the ability to penetrate souls. Father Kennard urged a more personal, loving service. 

“We did something unusual and it was in God’s graces,” says Jim O’Hanlon, one of the founders. “Now this whole city is talking about the poor. These were things Father Kennard was saying 60 years ago.” 

Gene Feltz, another founder, says that men like McDaniel make him proud of the ministry. 

“It means dedication,” Feltz says. “You started something. Keep it going.”

Descendants of the founders have kept Blanchet going and led the construction of a new building in 2012. 

Jim Christianson is son of founder Dan Christianson, who died in 2002. Jim came to board meetings as a child, even if it was just for the doughnuts. 

As an adult, he joined the board of what he calls “one of the best charities in Portland.” 

The next generation has stepped up. Jim’s son John recently joined the board. 

“I am honored and excited to be carrying on this legacy,” says John, an attorney who lives in the neighborhood. “It’s not a Band-Aid service. It’s thoughtful. It’s tough when it needs to be. It focuses on care for the person.” 

A corps of 7,000 volunteers helps operate the house, plus Blanchet Farm near Carlton. Greg Baker, Blanchet House executive director, announced that the organization has received a grant to build tiny homes to shelter people on the streets. 

Blanchet honored key supporters at the brunch, including the late Bob Franz, who left $1 million for the house in his will. He and his sister Elsie Franz Finley were longtime supporters of the ministry. 

Honors also went to Mary Grace McDermott, a nurse who long helped Blanchet House, and a team from Trader Joe’s that donates food. 

Kelly Wetherald, Blanchet development manager, got special mention and a bouquet of flowers.