Combining Food and Financial Education During Coronavirus Pandemic
Due to the COIVD-19 crisis, Birch Community Services is facing an unprecedented need for our program. We are a two-pronged program, providing both food and financial literacy to address both short term and long term needs.
We also provide food, clothing, and household items to 70 other nonprofits and food pantries in the Portland Metro area.
We are seeing a dramatic increase in people applying to BCS. People who are in immediate need of food and basic items, as well as long term coaching on how to financially proceed from this crisis. In the midst of this pandemic, Birch is considered “essential” since we are the main source for groceries for 580 families and 70 other nonprofit food pantries weekly. Due to the Coronavirus, we have had to adjust our operating systems and requirements of employee hours to meet the increased need of constant sanitation, social distancing and safety. We are thankful that we are able to continue serving our families at this time of great need.
Overview of the Program
At BCS, we value being an accountable and caring community. Every month, each family volunteers and pays $80. They receive weekly shopping trips for food, clothing, and household items, as well as access to financial literacy courses and one-on-one meetings with our Financial Literacy Manager for coaching on achievable goals.
A Little History…
Founded in 1992 by Suzanne and Barry Birch, they heard of bread going to waste at the Union Gospel Mission. They knew some families who could benefit from the bread, and began picking it up on an on-call basis to share with their friends. Eventually, word spread and numerous organizations were asking the Birches to pick up their leftovers to redistribute. Their small rental house had no garage and bread began to cover their entryway, dining room, and sofa! They’ve gradually grown throughout the years and today, Birch Community Services has grown to be housed in a 22,500 square foot warehouse and partnerships with over 270 donors and businesses that donate their food and products. As of today we have 581 families come shop at Birch Community Services every week.
Birch’s Mission is to provide a community where people can be responsible and accountable for meeting their basic needs, and to equip them with tools to overcome financial difficulty. Their four pillars are “Food. Education. Freedom. Legacy.” Food provides about $1,000/month of groceries and household items to our participants, including clothing and Danner work boots. This immediate relief of the financial burden creates margin in our participants' monthly expenses to pay down debt. Education is provided by our financial coach, who meets with each family one-on-one. Birch also offers six “Re$tart” financial classes and various times throughout the year that help educate families on how to get out of debt and how to track their expenses. Freedom is what our families experience as they accomplish their goals and become debt free. Legacy results in transitioning from the program, our families are equipped to educate their children about finances, and end the poverty cycle.
What makes Birch unique from other organizations that help provide food to the hungry is the component of responsibility and accountability. We have a symbiotic relationship with our families: to be a participant, a family agrees to pay a service fee of $80/month and meet with our Financial Literacy Manager to review their debt and current finances. Families must also volunteer in the warehouse two hours every month serving their peers– a small price to pay, but these volunteer hours help keep our overhead cost low, and provide a sense of community to all involved. At Birch, 64% of our operational costs are covered by the monthly service fees.