When the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country in March and April, helping agencies like St. Vincent de Paul’s Portland Council could only be unprepared.

Finances and staff would both run short in the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

“Though the response to a call for additional donations were met with an unbelievable outpouring of support from the community, the onslaught of requests for rent, utility and food assistance was unprecedented,” said Brian Ferschweiler, executive director of the Portland Council.

Beginning in mid-March, the number of calls to the council’s emergency services lines quadrupled from 100 or so a day to more than 400 per day. From March onward, the Portland Council has spent more than $680,000 in rent and utility relief and assisted more than 2,500 households struggling because of job loss or a reduction in work hours.

“The requests continue to pour in and we need help to answer those who need our help, despite what news articles say about how the economy is getting better,” Ferschweiler said.

Notes of thanks have come in from people who never have needed aid before.

“I have never been in my current unemployed situation and needed assistance,” wrote Belinda. “I am so grateful for all of your help. I especially want to thank your staff, they were great. I almost had my power turned off and you came through and allowed me to keep my power on. It is nice to know there are good people like you out there lending a hand.”

To help

Go to svdppdx.org/a150/donate or send checks to Society of St. Vincent de Paul, PO Box 42157, Portland, OR 97242. To volunteer at the council offices, send an email to volunteer@svdpportland.org.