Bend Community Center Fills Stomachs & Hearts of Needy

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Whether a person is disadvantaged, homeless or just plain hungry, they can seek out the Bend Community Center (BCC), which has been striving – for a decade now – to meet basic needs in the community by providing food, clothing, emergency shelter, job training and other high-impact, low-cost goods and services.

Established in 2002, this nonprofit organization has assisted the homeless and low-income with benevolence and dedication. The clientele ranges from teens to families to veterans and people with mental or physical disabilities.

One of BCC’s original but very successful programs is Feed the Hungry (FTH), initiated in October 2004. The BCC crew was aware of the startling statistic that Oregon was ranked number one nationally in food insecurity and predicted that they would be serving approximately 60-80 people per week.

Fast forward to the present day and unfortunately the numbers have skyrocketed, with more than 2,000 meals being provided per week. This includes hot meals every Sunday, sack lunches and various food items donated to other food kitchens and shelters, including Bethlehem Inn and Family Kitchen. Low-income seniors are also given a hot lunch Monday-Friday every week.

FTH is completely dependent on the community, prompting various individuals, organizations, businesses and churches to bring different things to the table. Every week roughly 75 volunteers prepare meals and local grocery stores, restaurants and NeighborImpact (BCC’s food bank partner) donate food supplies. Local artists and musicians contribute an equally valuable commodity: their time, participating in annual fundraisers. FTH is a powerful vehicle that brings together both provider and beneficiary as one tightly knit community.

Items like razors, toothbrushes and showers can be equally as important. According to BCC Director Taffy Gleason, “One of the biggest barriers to the homeless is hygiene. If they can’t get clean and constantly stay clean it is very difficult for them to get a job.”

In addition to running its own programs BCC supports the local chapter of Becca’s Closet, an organization that provides free prom dresses and formal wear for low-income teens. Located in the BCC basement, Becca’s Closet has given away more than 500 dresses to date and is run by local teens.

In the current economy, finding jobs is one of the most problematic issues facing teens and adults alike. BCC helps ease this task by providing job training for at-risk youth and adults. Through partnerships with COIC, Experience Works, Heart of Oregon Corp and Marshall High School, up to 40 individuals at a time are trained in a wide range of occupations. In 2009 alone 200 people received training at all three BCC facilities.

A primary work site for the job trainees is at the BCC thrift store, where the youths and adults can work the cash register, provide customer service and do other assorted tasks. A unique arrangement with several local agencies allows clients with special vouchers to receive basic household items for free, and the items that are actually sold combine with eBay to provide BCC with an invaluable source of revenue.

The Bend Community Bikeshed is a great “win-win” opportunity with at-risk participants in the job training program providing bicycle repair and distribution to the homeless. The Bikeshed gives bicycle safety and alternative transportation instruction for the bike recipients and serves as a recycling center by keeping bikes out of the landfill.

BCC is currently working on developing a one stop shopping center where people could have access to showers, clean laundry and even computers. It would provide an address for the homeless to put on an application to help them get a job as well.

The community service efforts can have a deeper meaning. Gleason says, “Volunteering for any organization generally helps you to have a greater appreciation for your own life. At BCC, no matter how tough you may think you have it, when you talk to the homeless, you really learn how fortunate you are. It’s an eye opener and helps you gain an appreciation for what you have in your life.”

Asked about some of her experiences that made her realize what a difference she was making, she adds, “We had a couple of older gentlemen come in very dirty, hungry and thin. They were sharing a tent, and had very little in terms of material possessions. When they found out they could get a shower, warm meals and clean clothes, they started crying.”

Gleason stresses the fact that society is only as strong as its weakest link and that the higher the standard of living the poor have, the healthier the community is. BCC volunteers have been pouring themselves into the process of raising this standard for ten years, and show no signs of slowing up. But despite all of the outstanding programs and outreach efforts, the ideals and purpose of the group may all boil down to this quote from eight-year-old volunteer Campbell Dixon, “I feel really good inside when I help other people.”

Info: 1036 NE Fifth Street, Bend. 541-312-2069, www.bendscommunitycenter.org.

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