Portland, OR. The nonprofit Our House provides services to people with HIV including healthcare, housing, occupational therapy, and other vital resources like a food pantry. Now during the pandemic, the Our House food pantry called Esther’s Pantry is helping the larger community. With Esther’s Pantry lifting its usual HIV positive requirement, it has been able to serve 200 community members per week; four times the usual number.
Volunteers at Esther’s Pantry serving the entire community on Wednesdays.
The Portland residential facility serving HIV affected people has continued to operate during COVID even without the support of its 230 volunteers. Director of Development and Communication Dana Kinney said that COVID has been a “great pause,” in which Our House has looked more deeply at its position in the community. The organization typically partners with local restaurants and wineries in its fundraising Dinner Series but realizes it cannot ask for support from these businesses when they are financially struggling.
“Moving forward, I see more of a multi-beneficial kind of relationship with our community, more than just our community supporting us, but flipping the narrative a little bit and supporting the community,” Kinney said. “We’ve been able to take this situation, this really unknowing situation, and create all these new innovative ways to connect.”
“The community out at Esther’s Pantry has been phenomenal. We have all these great new community partners, stores and shops that are donating to us, community members that have stepped up,” Kinney said. “Our granters and funders have stepped up, and we’re seeing two to three times the amount of people.”
While the residential facility cannot accept volunteers due to the vulnerability of its residents, Esther’s Pantry still needs community members to help keep it functioning. Additionally, in light of recent Black Lives Matter activism, Our House is interrogating its racial composition and asking how it can better serve the broader community.
“When over 90% of the clients we serve are self-identifying as white people, we are missing something,” Kinney said. “Especially since we know people of color, especially Black people, are disproportionately impacted by HIV.”
Our House has also employed new technology to keep its Neighborhood Housing and Care program functioning. This program helps people living with HIV live independently and usually relies on social workers going into clients’ homes. Now, devices similar to iPads, but far simpler, are keeping caregivers, clients, and families connected via phone trees and Zoom calls.
Kinney said that despite the physical distance, she feels more connected than ever to her coworkers. Now they talk about topics beyond work and do personal check-ins to see how everyone is doing.
“I don’t know what the future of Our House is, but it’ll be here because there’s a need,” Kinney said. “That’s what social service programs do: the government isn’t able to fulfill a need so we step up and do it.”
From Our House:
Our House inspires people with HIV to LIVE WELL. Our House provides integrated health and housing services to people with HIV/AIDS. Guided by compassion, collaboration, and respect, we provide 24-hour specialized care, supportive services, and independent housing with support services.
Portland, OR. The Black United Fund (BUF) is working under pandemic limitations but has found a way to increase outreach. Spearheading new programs is the Executive Director/CEO of the nonprofit, Dr. LM Alaiyo Foster, Ed.D. She has an impressive list of degrees and certifications but is called “Dr. A” for short. The CEO believes a societal shift for COVID-19 prevention measures prompted her to ramp-up plans making more programs available online.
Additionally, Dr. A says due to the national spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement, people are paying more attention to Black-led organizations like BUF. The nonprofit has already surpassed a $75,000 goal for its Juneteenth & Justice fundraiser. While BUF, as a 501(c)(3), doesn’t take a political stance on any issues, it does stand for community discussion and student safety.
The Black United Fund (BUF) is a Black-led, female-led organization with a 37-year legacy of helping the Black community’s youth explore college and post-secondary options. Every year, the foundation awards scholarships to send aspiring students to college. It also hosts scholarship writing workshops, a mentorship program, leadership opportunities, and more. As the organization in Oregon certified to teach this particular scholarship writing curriculum, BUF is uniquely positioned to uplift Black youth.
Recently, Dr. A has been working on making the workshops and programs more accessible by taking them online. This move is part of a preexisting endeavor to expand BUF’s geographical reach.
“When I came on in 2018, I was very clear in my interview that I had a vision,” Dr. A said. “We want to move things online, we are making them modular, we are increasing accessibility, statewide, in a way that doesn’t require a student to travel; we are attacking the digital divide. COVID, in essence, has just really ramped up the mental timeline that I had.” Dr. A sees this as an opportunity: now that the status quo is not an option, others are more willing to consider her ideas.
“If you’re like me, you’re worried that maybe people thought you were just ‘out there,’ like ‘she’s too ahead of her time,’” she said. “Now it’s like, this is the time! This is the moment, let’s do it, let’s be as out of the box as possible, let’s blow the box up … COVID has allowed a lot more openness around that discussion. What we’ve always done is obsolete now … I think this has been quite liberating, as a leader.”
Alongside creating more virtual programming, one new objective for BUF recently is breaking down the digital divide. By providing free computers and WiFi access onsite, as well as a burgeoning laptop checkout system, BUF gives youth who might not otherwise have access to these resources equity in opportunities to research colleges, scholarships, and jobs.
“What we can do, and often do, is create space for those different sides to come together and have that conversation for communities,” Dr. A said. “Whether it’s defunding the police or not, I’m more concerned about the children that are in the crosshairs of it in an educational institution.”
Dr. A describes herself as a “silver lining person.” So even while COVID has been devastating for businesses and individuals alike, she is motivated and inspired in her work.
“This work is a calling in terms of education and social service, and it’s just where my heart is,” she said. “It’s undeniable.”
From Black United Fund:
The mission of the Black United Fund of Oregon is to assist in the social and economic development of Oregon’s underserved communities and to contribute to a broader understanding of ethnic and culturally diverse groups.