On March 7, Blanchet House of Hospitality will host its annual brunch to raise funds for work that alleviates suffering among the homeless and jobless of Portland. During the online event, awards will go to those the agency calls “extraordinary people who have selflessly served the community.”

Jim Christianson and Ed O’Hanlon will receive the Al Riley Award for lifelong service to Blanchet House’s mission. The award is named for Blanchet House’s longest serving executive director, who ran the organization for nearly 40 years unpaid.

“Al kept Blanchet House alive,” recalled O’Hanlon. “He was an amazing person.”

Blanchet leaders say O’Hanlon and Christianson also are amazing and have helped sustain the organization.

The two men began their friendship and volunteer service as children tagging behind their fathers, both founders of Blanchet House along with schoolmates from the University of Portland. As adults, the two only stepped up more. Christianson, a financial adviser, and O’Hanlon, an accountant, volunteered to do all of the accounting for the organization for nearly 17 years.

“We met every other Friday to pay the bills and sign checks,” O’Hanlon told program host David Endres in a Mater Dei Radio interview. “It was just what happened on Friday mornings. It was great fun. Jim has been my best friend all my life. Blanchet House has always been a family affair and had Catholic values. The generosity of the Catholic community has kept it going by God’s grace.”

Blanchet House’s annual brunch brings together supporters to celebrate and sustain its meal and shelter services.

“The need seems greater than ever when you look around Old Town,” said O’Hanlon, referring to the large number of tents and tarps occupied by those without housing.

Blanchet House, at Northwest Third Avenue and Glisan Street, has offered free hot meals, clothing and shelter since 1952. Need for meals at the site increased 60% during the COVID-19 pandemic. For a few months, staff and volunteers were serving up to 2,000 meals a day because other service providers temporarily halted operations.

Word spread among the Catholic community that Blanchet House could use help to meet the need for to-go meals. Students and faculty from Jesuit High School gave major help. Students and their families held a sack lunch drive making more than 10,000 bagged meals for hungry guests. The brown bag lunches decorated with words of hope were handed out onsite and delivered to Portland’s new emergency shelters set up during the pandemic.

Because of the service, Jesuit will receive the Founders Award at the annual brunch. The school’s sack lunch drive inspired many other schools, families and individuals to make lunches, which were critical to helping Blanchet get nutritious food to hungry people.

Learn more

To attend the virtual brunch — set for March 7, 11 a.m.-noon, go to blanchethouse.org/brunch2021.