Portland Adventist Community Services
More than 200 name badge buttons line a bulletin board along one wall in the offices of Portland Adventist Community Services (PACS). Gaps reveal missing badges, although they're not really lost. They are "in action," attached to their namesakes out in the thrift store, medical clinic, or food pantry. All of the volunteers have made a conscious decision to brighten the corner right where they are. Their purpose: to bring everyday gifts of dignity and the love of Jesus to those struggling to make ends meet.
Take David Roberts, for instance, who came first as a client. He wasn't down and out. He had been, in fact, a connoisseur of fine art, his worth measured in net worth, not self worth. But what he lacked, he found at PACS. He found a sense of family. And, he discovered a purpose beyond himself. David now runs the cash register for the PACS furniture and household goods store most days. He loves interacting with those who come through the door — many on a first-name basis. He knows that they too are perhaps looking for something more substantial than just today's bargain.
There's something else you need to know about David. When he joined the PACS family as a volunteer, he took note of the constant and kindly difference in how people were treated. He observed the spirit of Christ pervading the attitudes and actions of staff and volunteers. And then the months and years he had volunteered at PACS paid a special dividend: David was baptized as a new Adventist member in January of this year.
The Volunteer Team
PACS volunteers range from age 14 to 96. "Anyone can apply to help," says Carol Paulson, PACS volunteer coordinator. Many are not Adventists; some have little or no Christian connection. But, as Paulson explains, "I tell them 'we're all God's children,' and they seem to understand and appreciate that."
In fact, Paul Cole, PACS executive director, quips, "Even if we wanted to, we couldn't chase them off with a stick. They love it here, and we love them." That simple circle of common ground keeps a diverse group of people focused on PACS's central mission to follow the example of Christ to meet the basic needs and restore the dignity of struggling individuals.
Feeding the Community
Through the years, PACS has become an Adventist Community Service (ACS) innovator. Its revolutionary food pantry provides a three- to five-day emergency food supply to an average of 7,000 individuals each month. But it eschews the common practice of giving pre-made food boxes to families. Open each weekday morning, the pantry features a store-like experience complete with shopping lists to help clients, on limited resources, learn how to choose good nutrition. The dignity of personal choice is a key element here and in every PACS service. The PACS COW (Commodities On Wheels) mobile food pantry is a great new service. This trailer is designed to bring limited food supplies to areas not easily served by the main location.
Healing the Community
In Oregon, more than one in nine families live without health benefits. In 2011, more than 1,400 people visited the PACS clinic, staffed by a large team of individuals including volunteer health care professionals.
Carl Molina, a family practice physician for the Providence system, has volunteered his expertise at PACS for the past two years. He is able to treat people from all walks of life who are without any other health insurance due to layoffs, low-wage jobs or other misfortune. The clinic also partners with the Walla Walla University School of Nursing and Adventist Medical Center to provide critical primary care to its clients.
Equipping the Community
A traffic jam of carts greets the eye on most days in the back room of the PACS thrift store receiving room. The carts contain clothing, pictures, knickknacks, small appliances — almost anything you can imagine from garages, storerooms and closets all around Portland. These donated items are carefully sorted and then marked for sale. More than 220,000 people made use of the PACS thrift store during 2011. "I like to call this the stewardship department," grins Tim Zollbrecht, thrift store manager. Indeed, half of the PACS income is supplied directly by thrift store sales. This enhances every service, including the food pantry and medical clinic that PACS provides.
Carol Holmberg, PACS staff member, who spends a great deal of her time directing the donation traffic flow, says, "We experience miracles every day." That sense of God's impeccable timing stems from anecdotal stories of big and little things happening at just the right time and place. A box of rubber bands materializes just when needed; a rare prosthesis in just the right size is found on the very day it is requested. Does God care about providing a container of hot chocolate? According to the stories at PACS, He certainly does.
If you ask Paul Cole, PACS director, about PACS's greatest need, he will respond without much hesitation: "Space!" Thrift-store income, which drives a good share of the PACS budget, is limited to the square footage now on hand. If PACS could expand the thrift-store operation, more funds would be available to help enhance food and medical services. An additional dream is to provide weekly seminars on family finance, nutrition and spiritual principles. It all takes money — which seems always to be in short supply. How will God supply the growing need for space? Cole doesn't yet know. But he's confident that in God's special timing, the answer and the means will come.
And when it happens, it will be part of the everyday miracles at Portland Adventist Community Services, brightening the corner right where they are.