Record-breaking wildfires, a national reckoning with social justice and a worldwide pandemic. Last year showed us that Oregonians owe a lot to its roll-up-your-sleeves, help-your-neighbor community. So what better way to show your appreciation than by giving back to the organizations doing that hard work?. Here are some of the state’s charitable organizations that have been fighting to support the communities most affected by some of last year’s biggest hurdles — and that will continue to do important work after the dust settles.
Oregon Food Bank
With the shuttering of schools and other community gathering areas, a number of Oregonains lost access to free breakfasts and lunches for their children attending school, as well as food supplies for feeding their families at home. Seniors, especially, are at a higher risk of entering public spaces to pick up food. That’s why, in the wake of the pandemic, the Oregon Food Bank shifted its operations to meet the needs of the more than 860,000 people — a number that continues to grow — who rely on their services during the pandemic. The organization has a number of volunteer opportunities, relies on donations, and also accepts help through petitions and pledges aimed at policies that curb hunger and poverty.
Oregon Humane Society
For more than 150 years, the Oregon Humane Society has worked to find homes for cats, dogs, small animals and horses. While its work helps more than 11,000 animals each year, the organization does so much more for Oregon’s furry family members. As the largest humane society in the Northwest, the organization held pet-food banks to help those affected by COVID-19 and coordinated delivering those donations to other humane societies around the state. When the wildfires devastated towns across the state last summer, the organization again sprang into action by providing fire-affected pet owners with supplies and emergency boarding for animals at evacuation sites. To support the Oregon Humane Society and its ongoing efforts, you can make a donation, volunteer your time or adopt a pet of your own — only if you’re ready to take on that responsibility.
The Chúush Fund: Water for Warm Springs
Oregonians may take for granted their ready access to clean water. But more than 60% of the state’s second largest reservation, the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs, do not have regular, consistent access to clean water. It’s the second year of the water crisis, which was brought on by a series of breaks in key community water lines. The Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and other organizations have come together to create The Chúush Fund: Water for Warm Springs. The best way to support the effort is to donate, though they will also accept your help by educating others about the ongoing crisis and advocating on the campaign’s behalf by contacting your representatives.
Oregon is known for its pristine natural beauty. One of the charities fighting to keep this reputation is SOLVE, a donor-funded organization that aims to improve the environment and build a legacy of stewardship. Throughout the year, volunteers work on various cleanup projects that target litter in neighborhoods as well as trash and marine debris on ocean beaches and river shorelines. The organization also removes invasive species and plants native trees and shrubs to support pollinators and other wildlife. There are a number of ways to support the organization, but common ways to help include making a donation, volunteering or even leading your own project.
Basic Rights Oregon
Born out of antigay attacks in the late 1980s and antigay ballot measures in the years that followed, Basic Rights Oregon fights for equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Oregonians. Their work focuses on equity in housing, employment, health care and meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth around the state. They do this by building broad and inclusive policies, shifting public opinion and creating a powerful movement. You can support the organization by volunteering your time or donating to their main fund, which aims to make policy and legislative changes, to their education fund, which focuses on educational advocacy, or to their political action committee, which works to elect fair-minded government officials.
Houselessness remains an issue in Oregon, and one of the many organizations working to give this vulnerable community a proverbial hand up is Street Roots. With the slogan “For those who can’t afford free speech,” the weekly alternative newspaper is available for those experiencing poverty and houselessness to purchase for 25 cents. These vendors then sell the weekly paper on the streets of Portland for $1, allowing those experiencing poverty to earn an income as well as build job skills. And given the quality of articles — some of which have won the street-news publication top journalism awards — that price is a steal. Street Roots also produces a comprehensive list of houseless and low-income services in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. To support Street Roots, you can donate, sponsor, advertise or volunteer.
Urban League of Portland
Social justice has been one of the key issues of 2020, but just because the calendar has changed doesn’t mean you should let the momentum of the past year come to a halt. As one of Oregon’s oldest civil rights and social-services organizations, the Urban League of Portland works to empower African Americans to achieve equality. Their work includes a long history of advocacy and engagement, as well as aid for housing assistance, community health, senior services, workforce development, youth and education. In recent months, the Urban League of Portland has helped offset the impact COVID-19 has had on Portland’s Black community by helping sustain and support Black-owned businesses and working to open a shelter for those left houseless by the pandemic. They also disseminate information about Oregon wildfire-relief resources and advocate for police accountability. You can support the organization in its efforts by volunteering, making a donation or becoming a member.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
As one of the most iconic events in the state, the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland breathes life into some of the most classic stories of our time through live performances, including those in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theater. It’s also a showcase for diversity in storytelling under artistic director Nataki Garrett. For more than 85 years, the public charity organization has been the force behind thousands of performances witnessed by millions of audience members. However, the festival was put on hold in 2020 due to protocols intended to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to navigating that crisis, many members of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival community were affected by the wildfires that erupted in Southern Oregon last fall. To help the organization deal with these challenges and to ensure that they continue putting on these must-see productions, consider supporting them by making a donation or becoming a member. If you’ve forgotten the magic of these plays, be sure to check out the performances they’re streaming online.