A volunteer at Blanchet House helps assemble meals in bags after the dining room had to close because of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Blanchet House)
A volunteer at Blanchet House helps assemble meals in bags after the dining room had to close because of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Blanchet House)
While most Oregon citizens have been ordered to stay home, feeding sites for Portland’s homeless are being considered essential operations during the coronavirus outbreak. 
 
Blanchet House of Hospitality last week served almost 10,000 to-go meals and collected almost 50,000 pounds of food from shuttered restaurants and businesses. 
 
“We are now in a position to redirect some perishable food to other groups that desperately need support, and we are assessing our capacity to produce meals for delivery to those who cannot access food outside their homes,” said Scott Kerman executive director of Blanchet House.
 
Kerman said that the site is seeing many people for the first time, since many other sites don’t serve meals daily.  
 
“They are tired and hungry, men and women with nowhere else to turn,” Kerman said. “But they are grateful that we are here for them, with friendly greetings, nutritious food, and clothing they desperately need.” 
 
Kerman said the ministry will continue, even with a stay at home order.  
 
“If we do not carry out our mission in times of great difficulty and risk then what is its true worth?” he said. “It is when the need is great and the circumstances severe that our work is most imperative.”
 
Kerman said he wonders how much he reasonably can expect of volunteers. He knows social distancing is impossible when serving food. 
 
“I say to our volunteers, for whom I have the deepest admiration and gratitude, you must choose to do what your heart and conscience compel you to do,” Kerman wrote a message to supporters and workers. “If you stay home, I commend that choice and wish you and yours good health. . . If you choose to volunteer, please do so with full awareness of the risks involved. We will be here, feeding the hungry and desolate in our city. It is what we do.”
 
In one day, Blanchet pivoted from serving meals indoors to a meal-to-go service utilizing food donated from canceled events and closed restaurants. Closed schools like St. Thomas More were able to donate all of their milk. 
 
“New and longtime volunteers are coming down putting in hours of work under possibly dangerous conditions to make sure people get a meal every day,” said Julie Showers, marketing director for Blanchet House. 
 
Downtown service sites like Blanchet, Portland Rescue Mission, Union Gospel Mission, St. Francis Hall and Stone Soup are sharing food and collaborating.
 
“It's really beautiful to see what's happening this week as people pull together to serve one another,” Showers said.