" As the Catholic Church’s domestic relief agency in Oregon, we strive to help organize the charitable efforts of the church and the community in response to this common crisis. "
In reflecting on the COVID-19 emergency, Pope Francis recently reminded us that such a crisis “is overcome in the first place by the antibodies of solidarity.” Our commitment to solidarity, he continued, “breaks all the fatalism in which we have immersed ourselves and allows us to return to be the architects and protagonists of a common history.”

As the Catholic Church’s domestic relief agency in Oregon, we strive to help organize the charitable efforts of the church and the community in response to this common crisis. In particular, we are here to assure that the voice of the most vulnerable is heard and that their needs receive priority attention.

To ground our work, we are conducting wellness checks for thousands of vulnerable Oregonians. Personal contact allows us to closely monitor the crisis’ impact on all our clients including refugees, immigrants, our undocumented community, unhoused and housing instable individuals and families, and the residents in our 27 affordable-housing sites throughout the state. We are also tracking the emergency financial needs of people coming to us after having lost their jobs, and the many people reporting mental health challenges (such as anxiety and worry) and domestic violence.

In response to what we are learning, we’re focused first on the basics — food, housing, income, jobs and mental health. We have established a food preparation and distribution network, which includes hot food for the unhoused and food basket delivery for the housed, at three sites. We will expand this network to coordinate with parish food pantries. We’ve ramped up online crisis counseling through our Intercultural Counseling Center and emergency financial assistance through Save First.

One of our chief concerns is housing instability, and we are addressing that in the short term by providing rent assistance when possible and delaying rent payment at all our properties. There is a growing need, however, to identify housing for individuals and families who are recently unhoused and/or living in their cars. There is an urgent need to make emergency housing, even if temporary, available, and we will be highlighting these opportunities through the Pope Francis Center (see go.sentinel.org/3eHqEcI).

As we provide updates on what we are seeing, we need — more than ever — your stance of solidarity and care to serve the poorest in our community. We’ve observed the dire needs for some time now as many of our clients do not have health coverage, sick pay, stable housing or legal residency. With the pandemic, these disparities are becoming clearer, and we must continue to put our faith into action. We encourage and support community efforts to advocate for our communities’ needs on issues related to rent moratorium, funding of homeless services and affordable housing, and protecting the safety and wellness of our undocumented and documented refugees and immigrants.

Together, in solidarity, we can continue to build our collective work for domestic relief and strive to humbly strengthen and reconstruct the pillars of community that heal and tend to the most vulnerable among us. What we build together today will become the foundation for a more just society tomorrow. Please reach out to us for support.

Birkel is executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon; Trinidad is board chairwoman of Catholic Charities