Birch Community Services: offering a hand up to help families escape poverty

On average, families have $21,000 in debt when they first visit Birch Community Services (BCS). One year after becoming a member of BCS’s Sustainable Families Program, most families have paid down their debt by an average of $7,000 and increased their savings by $1,000.

The secret to the program’s success? Food security with a helping of financial literacy.

“We look like a food security program, but are primarily focused on financial literacy,” Suzanne Birch, Executive Director, Birch Community Services, explained. “Providing our families with immediate financial relief on groceries, clothing, and personal care items not only creates margin to pay down debt, but it also opens them up to the world of financial education.”

BCS’s Sustainable Families Program membership costs each family $80 per month. Members must volunteer at least two hours of their time each month in the warehouse sorting groceries and clothes, stocking shelves, or tearing down boxes. To remain eligible, families cannot participate in SNAP or TANF (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), must have at least one household member working or actively looking for work, and must practice BCS’s Cultural Values.

In return, members can go “shopping” every week in BCS’s warehouse, taking home an average of $1,000 per month in food, clothing and household items. Members also have one-on-one meetings with a Financial Literacy Manager and take an eight-hour financial literacy course that helps with budgeting, catching up on bills, building savings and paying down debt. These families find that receiving this counsel and establishing a financial plan empowers them to see beyond their current circumstances and build hope and stability for their future.

“As a volunteer and membership-based program, the Sustainable Families Program is a hand up, not a handout,” said Birch. “It’s a partnership between families who are receiving the support they need to move out of the cycle of poverty while giving back to others who need the same support.”

BCS currently serves 600 families each week through its Sustainable Families Program. With just three full-time employees and one part-time employee in its warehouse, BCS’s membership model ensures it can sustain ongoing support for these families—even through unprecedented and growing needs.

As the pandemic continues to impact families across Oregon and Southwest Washington financially, BCS’s mission is more critical than ever. OnPoint was founded in 1932 by 16 teachers, and financial education remains at the center of everything we do. BCS’s innovative approach is making a difference, and we are thrilled to donate $5,000 to support its Sustainable Families Program.

You, too, can help more people access BCS’s life-changing resources by donating today.

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