Greater Need at Blanchet House | University of Portland

Greater Need at Blanchet House

Blanchet House sign with logo that reads University of Portland Pilots GIve Back Spring 2020On March 16, to comply with Gov. Kate Brown's COVID-19 social distancing orders, Blanchet House of Hospitality stopped serving meals indoors. Founded by eight University of Portland students to serve the poor and housing insecure, the Blanchet House has always served a warm meal restaurant-style. But last month, in fewer than 24 hours, the organization pivoted to a to-go meals plan, just as the need for those meals increased. On March 31, volunteers handed out 2,052 meals—a 50 percent increase from 2019, and a record number of meals since Blanchet's opening in 1952.

Rebecca Seibert, a University of Portland alumna and staff member, recently signed up to volunteer to help meet the need.

Seibert finished her master’s in higher education and student affairs at UP last year, and she is the administrative assistant in the International Education, Diversity, and Inclusion office. She and her husband have been volunteers for the Boys & Girls Club and Street Roots, but both of those organizations were forced to stop accepting volunteers due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  So Seibert responded to Blanchet’s need by signing up to work in the meals program. She has the following to say about the experience:

“Blanchet House reached out to their network and said that they needed more volunteers—they had a lot of student groups, church groups, and elderly folks helping them out and they lost a lot of those populations with the lockdown. Their whole volunteer structure had to change, so I’m not the only new face. The director is there for every meal and makes sure new volunteers learn a little bit about Blanchet, what they do, how they’ve changed, and how they’re adjusting now. Some of the changes Blanchet had to make were things they’d hoped to do over time anyway, like serving a higher volume on a more flexible schedule. But the regular volunteers and clients really miss the dining room space, where diners could come inside, sit at tables, and volunteers could really serve them meals rather than just handing them through a window. It’s tough. And I’ve heard that a lot of people who came in regularly, mainly lower-income older folks, aren’t coming through the line now. For the people who’ve been here a while, it’s hard not to see those people, they wonder what they’re doing. They worry about them quite a bit.

“I can’t speak for those coming through the lines for meals and coffee, but as a volunteer, from what I experience, I’d say Blanchet House is a very positive, positive space. For my husband and I, we could really go down a dark news rabbit hole thinking about all the terrible effects of this pandemic. Then we go to Blanchet, and we’re around people who either have been coming there a long time and have relationships with the place or others who found Blanchet during the COVID-19 outbreak and are looking for ways to respond. People are excited to be part of something that’s solution-oriented. I think there’s a real affection for both the organization and the relationships with people that take place there. The Blanchet residents working there are really upbeat and positive, and grateful, and they’ve really risen to this challenge, and seem to take pride in their ability to respond and make a difference.”