Providence gift supports GEM programs

Donation will support FISH food bank, Warming Shelter, Voucher Assistance

Gorge Ecumenical Ministries recently received a $30,000 gift from Providence Health Plans, the healthcare insurance arm of Providence Health & Services. The gift will help GEM’s ministries of support for vulnerable members of the central Gorge community.

Three emergency and helping ministries of GEM in Hood River County — the Hood River Warming Shelter, FISH food bank and Hood River Emergency Voucher Program — as well as similar programs supported by GEM members through the Mt. Adams Ministerial Association, will share the gift.

FISH food bank has been gathering and distributing food month in and month out for the past 43 years. With the recent economic downturn, the number of hungry people in the county has increased dramatically. The number of FISH clients has increased from 8,498 in 2007 to 14,741 in 2011; an increase of 65 percent.

Last year, FISH distributed more than 125,000 pounds of food to 14,700 hungry community members throughout Hood River County through service centers in Hood River, Parkdale, Odell and Cascade Locks.

Much of this food was purchased outside of the Oregon Food Bank network, which currently is unable to meet FISH’s requests. The Providence gift will help FISH provide its clients with both fresh and perishable items.

The Warming Shelter was open nightly from December to March 31, when it closed its second year of operation. It provided 453 bed-nights for 63 people this year.

The overnight lodging and meals are provided by volunteers in the facilities of six local congregations: Immanuel Lutheran Church; Hood River Alliance Church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Riverside Community Church, Church of the Nazarene and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

In addition to lodging and meals, the program’s volunteers have connected some of its guests to other community resources for such things as medical care and more permanent housing.

The Hood River Emergency Voucher Program, a year-round ministry like FISH food bank, provides lodging, meals and gas money on a one-time basis for people who find themselves stranded without resources. The program assisted 452 persons during 2011, up from 393 in 2010.

In Klickitat County, the Mount Adams Ministerial Association has initiated a partnership with Skyline Hospital and the Washington Gorge Action Program to provide for a more accessible and efficient use of emergency assistance programs.

Through this new coordinated effort, funds from the Sisters of Providence will augment severely limited resources at Skyline Hospital for emergency transportation, gas and shelter resources, and help with housing and food assistance through the Washington Gorge Action Program food banks.

The Providence gift comes in addition to the “community benefit” that Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital already provides. That benefit, in 2011, took the form of free and reduced-cost care, community partnerships and outreach programs that cost $6.2 million.

Providence has a long commitment to charity care and outreach, and when the hospital’s Community Assets and Needs Assessment identified many basic needs other than health care — such as food, housing and heat — that have an enormous impact on population health, Providence Health Plan decided to make the extra gift.

The donation continues the caring work the Sisters of Providence began more than 155 years ago, and makes it possible for the hospital’s strategic community partners, like Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, to meet the basic needs of the poor and vulnerable. In making the gift, Providence expressed the hope that other individuals and groups will step up and help with this work.

Gorge Ecumenical Ministries has continued since 1976 the work of the Hood River Area Council of Churches (1969-1974) and Hood River Ecumenical Ministries (1974-1976). Its board meets monthly on the first Thursday of the month.

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