MyNeighbOR: Every Child Oregon acted quickly during the first few weeks of stay-at-home orders to create MyNeighbOR. This new initiative connects families with needs to neighbors in their same zip code who can meet that need. They called on churches across the state to become anchor sites, where the tangible items purchased by donors could be dropped off by donors and picked up by recipients. Imago was in the first group of churches to become an anchor site. Our facilities team has been staffed at specific times to receive and distribute these goods.
A few weeks later, we noticed there were some larger needs that were harder for individuals to meet, so we used some of our relief funds to help. Here are some of those stories:
Foster Parents Night Out Becomes Foster Family Night In: When we found out that FPNO would be shut down for the remainder of the season, our FPNO leaders and volunteers stepped up with creativity and hard work to create a fun family experience at home. Volunteers recorded videos telling the kids and families what they missed most about seeing them. Boxes with crafts, games, gifts certificates for movies and prizes were mailed out!
With Love: One of our partner organizations, With Love meets tangible needs of foster families throughout the greater Portland area. Our gift to their COVID-19 response efforts went to good use! President and Founder Allie Roth sent Imago the following note “Your donation has been used to support so many families this past month, to buy exersaucers, monitors, baby gates, play mats, kid potties, and walkers. The needs have been great. Thank you for your support during this time, it has been very needed for me and With Love!”
Refugee Care Collective: Imago Dei has been able to continue supporting Refugee Care Collective during this extremely difficult time. From gathering mattresses and a couch for a family of five from Afghanistan who arrived just as the crisis hit the Northwest, to providing food and gift cards from our food drive for families facing food insecurity, to making a donation to their relief fund, Imago’s generosity is making a difference! Check out this video from Refugee Care Collective’s Seth King:
Amid crisis, the already vulnerable become even more vulnerable. This is true for so many of our immigrant neighbors here in the greater Portland area. Due to your incredible generosity, we were able to start assessing the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors from week one. This led us to some existing and new partners helping our immigrant neighbors.
Workers without Work: VOZ Portland exists to provide education, advocacy and legitimate work at living wages for immigrant day laborers in Portland. A few weeks ago, Imago’s Pastor of Local Outreach, Ruben Alvarado, met VOZ Development Director Marvin Pena at VOZ’s location near Imago to deliver food and gift cards.
“When I arrived I saw 20 men standing on the sidewalk looking for work. Across the street were 6 to 8 tents. As I drove down the street men began to approach my car to tell me what work they could do for me,” Ruben said. “As I was still waiting for Marvin to arrive and open the gate, I circled the block. Just one street removed, there were another 15 or so men looking for work. Marvin told me that while they provide safer jobs at higher wages for their people, work has been limited in this time. About 30% of their workers live on the street, some in the tents I drove by. The men on the other street, just a block away were trying to find work at lower wages by not going through VOZ’s system. Marvin fears for their safety but understands why they are doing what they are doing. ‘They need to provide for their families,’ he said.”
Money from Imago’s Relief Fund, as well as food bags and gift cards, have gone to supporting these families the past month. Marvin said that only one other church in the city supports them. He was so grateful that Imago reached out. He drove by Imago and has been checking us out online. This week he sent the following message: “Tell your people thank you. The crisis is still going on and your support is appreciated. Thank you! It’s great having your community as an ally in our community!”
You Reminded us that People Do Care: An Imago member who is an immigration lawyer at SOAR reached out for prayer for one of her clients. During the conversation and time of prayer, we became aware of the greater need for their clients. “What keeps you up at night?” We asked SOAR’s Director of Immigration Legal Services. She told us about the need for technology for their staff. The lack of access to technology for their clients is greatly affecting their ability to meet timelines for impending court dates, immigration fees and paperwork filing. Yet the thing that keeps her up is the thought of their DACA kids who were on track to pay their upcoming fees to ensure they could continue their education and work opportunities here. When the crisis hit, and families lost jobs and kids had to go do school from home, many families pulled their savings for food and other necessities. What would happen to these families in the coming months?
Imago was able to help pay the fees for six kids to make sure they retain their current status and are able to continue their education and work opportunities! When we called to let SOAR’s director know we’d be able to help she said, “I can’t wait to tell my staff! I just had a staff meeting, and everyone seemed so tired and overwhelmed. The amount of need we see everyday is so great. But your church reminds me that there are people out there and that they still care! This is going to change these kids lives!!”
Food for Migrant Farm Workers: Catholic Charities has been a long-time partner of Imago Dei. Their food bank leader reached out to ask if we could help get food to migrant farm workers in Forest Grove who are facing much need. Imago’s donation will go to providing gas for food pick-up and delivery, and our connections with other churches and organizations is helping them find volunteers to hand out food to these families!
Native American Youth And Family Center: A friend of Imago who works with Multnomah County’s Sexual Exploitation Committee told us of a need for diapers at NAYA. With parents out of work and childcare facilities shut down, families were having a hard time finding or affording them. Imago’s Outreach team worked with our Imago Dei Kid’s team and collected all of our diapers and wipes that we wouldn’t be using during the shutdown.
Exploitation Does not Stop During Pandemic: Imago Dei has many friends and partner organizations working in the arena of anti-trafficking and sexual exploitation justice. These people were some of the first we reached out to during pandemic, and what we heard and continue to hear is heartbreakingly dark. Our friend Tom Perez from EPIK said “During crisis, the already vulnerable become more vulnerable.” Of course the other side of this is that those who prey upon the vulnerable do not stop during crisis. Women, girls and boys at risk of sexual exploitation are now at home instead of school or work, and the opportunities for them to be abused, hurt and exploited has grown greatly. Whether it’s our friends at EPIK, Multnomah County, Safety Compass, or our new friends at Cupcake Girls, we are hearing similar stories of individuals asking the question: Do I need to return to that life to support my children?
“We are working from home, except for call-out requests from Law Enforcement, Child Welfare, and Juvenile Detention. Our on-call services have not changed. We are also seeing a significant increase in the need of our existing clients. Many of them have children who ate daily at school with subsidized meals. Many who had transitioned [out of the sex industry] and into entry-level jobs have lost their jobs and have scrapped to survive, some returning to the sex industry to feed their children.”
“With strip club and brothel closures, our client support requests have increased over 300%, and I have never seen our client load this high, the requests this many, and our community so scared. As of this morning, we have 223 clients being cared for by our 35 volunteer client advocates and two therapists. 100% of them are in desperate need of financial support, so they are not forced to do street-based sex work and be susceptible to COVID-19.”
The director of The Cupcake Girls sent random emails to churches asking for help. When no one responded she said she was left to ask the question: Where is the Church?
As she was asking God that question, Imago Dei called and offered support. We’ve been able to provide funds, food, toilet paper, gift cards and prayer support for this new partner! We’ve also been able to rally a few partner churches to help. She said that our church is a light that gives her “hope that her girls are going to make it and courage so she can keep stepping into incredibly difficult stories and moments.”
Imago Dei will continue to work with and support all of the organizations mentioned here. We’ll also update stories as they come in to help us remember to keep this often-forgotten group of our neighbors in our prayers and outreach efforts.
Kelly Elementary Food Drive: During the first week of school shutdowns, five volunteers from Imago Central City and Eastside showed up to pack and hand out food bags at Kelly Elementary. On a sunny spring day, parents and kids lined up on the sidewalk, staying six feet apart of course, and waited for food. Some jumped in to volunteer to help with the packing. Certain families were approved to go through the line a second time based on the number of kids in their family. Volunteers distributed approximately 75 food bags. The relief of getting food for the week could be seen on the smiling faces of kids, parents and grandparents.
Literally Saving Lives: Our Imago Dei Community showed up in a major way for Refugee Care Collective, VOZ Portland and The Cupcake Girls during our food and gift card drive! We raised over $2,000 dollars worth of food and gift cards for families across our city. One of these bags was delivered by the Cupcake Girls to a woman who has left the sex industry. She came out and saw the bag of food on her porch and the woman delivering it. She began to weep and said “I can’t believe that church gave us food.” The delivery woman then saw three little faces appear in the window behind her. One of them yelled “Momma are you okay? Why are you crying?” Mom yelled back, “They gave us food!” The two little boys ran to the door, and the little girl in the window just stared, tears spilling over her eyes. The Director of Cupcake Girls, Amy-Marie, said “Please, please tell your people that they are literally saving lives!”
HOLLA – Changing the Narrative in Crisis: Eric Knox and HOLLA jumped into action quickly, providing tablets, tutoring, story times and childcare for the families they serve. Students learning from home are getting the help they need to be successful, and parents trying to figure out childcare are receiving help and kids who love spending time with their mentors are doing so online. Imago has been able to contribute financial support from our COVID-19 relief fund to help HOLLA be a shining star in this season and beyond!
Young Life: Young life is a long-time partner of Imago. During this time, they are asking “What does pandemic mean for our city’s youth?” Isolation, Boredom, Uncertainty and Fear are what many of our young people report. Young Life is helping youth – many of whom report having no stability of faith – stay in relationships that are caring, supportive and rooted in the Love of Christ. In this season they are staying in contact through technology, mailing letters, doing driveway visits while abiding by social distancing, delivering food to families and more. Imago’s donation is helping them and their volunteers (some from Imago) do the work they do!
Imago Dei has many members that work in the medical field. We are so grateful for the sacrifice they and their families are making in this time to bring healthcare, love and hope to their patients. We have heard so many stories from you about how God is using you, speaking into your lives and encouraging you to live out your vocations and callings. You are heroes in an extremely difficult time. Thank you! Imago members have also been helping people get vital PPE, such as masks and face shields. We’ve been able to help with this through supporting Albertina Kerr, an organization that serves people with varying disabilities, many of whom are more vulnerable to COVIC-19 and other viruses. As many of their workers cannot social distance while providing healthcare to their clients, PPE is very important. Imago’s gift was able to help them continue the work they do so well!