At Birch Community Services we gave away 9.7 million pounds of food and clothing last year to working, struggling families who we also held accountable to achieve their self-stated goals. The goal of our adult education is to help people achieve their goals. We teach financial classes where participants learn about budgeting and saving. On average, families who graduated from our program reduced their monthly debt by 28% and increased their emergency savings by 98%. We feel that accountability is a key component in the success we’ve experienced in addressing the roots of poverty.

BCS’ food-redistribution program served over 750 families in FY 2016. Participant families come to the BCS warehouse in NE Portland to pick up food, clothing, and other essential items that have been determined surplus by over 280 local manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, farms, dairies, bakeries and businesses. With the money that they save on these crucial staples,4A3A0514 SMALL BCS families are able to pursue goals that move them away from the bankruptcies, evictions and foreclosures that threaten them, and on to financial stability. These families also avail themselves of workshops and classes offered regularly at the warehouse that increase skills in a range of subjects designed to facilitate self-sufficiency.  BCS empowers participants through accountability and setting of goals, fostering their capacity to give back through volunteerism in an environment of community. Typical outcomes for families of BCS’ program include decreasing / eliminating consumer debt, catching up with mortgage or car payments, meeting medical bills, paying toward student loans, or helping pay for vocational training or tuition for college (which, research shows, is the most effective way out of poverty). BCS also served 67 other agencies in the Portland area in FY 2016, which pick up food they then re-distribute to the vulnerable populations they serve, including homeless, at-risk youth, and families without transport to pick up items from BCS themselves. Some of these agencies serve clientele as far away as the Oregon coast and the Cascades mountain town of Welches.

Four characteristics that set BCS apart from other organizations:

1. A theory of change based on accountability and the power of human dignity: At its core, BCS’ unique model of service delivery is founded on a belief that true charity comes from empowering each individual to restore his or her capacity to be self-sufficient, and that the most effective way to accomplish this process is within the context of a community in which participants work together to attain their goals.

2. Efficient redistribution of market surplus: What local producers of food and other staples consider as “excess inventory” is also the means for needy families to put meals on their tables, clothes on their children and work boots on their breadwinners; BCS is the vital connection diverting those products that would otherwise be added to landfills, to the pantries and closets of people who can use them.

3. An operational structure that is sustainable because it is mostly internally supported: Since many operational functions are carried out and funded by program participants, the BCS model is able to sustain itself with a much smaller proportion of external cash revenue (in the form of individual donations and grants) than most nonprofit organizations. The organization is staffed by a dedicated group of  5 full time and 9 part time employees—a fraction of the number of paid personnel at other nonprofits of BCS’ size and impact.

4. Consistent, strong, and unified leadership: BCS’ founders continue to serve in key executive/ operative roles, and some members of the current board of directors have been serving since the board was founded over 25 years ago.

BCS Participants (June 2014)

Fast Facts 2016

People Served: 3,188

Birch served 797 working poor families in FY 2016 with an average of about 4 people in each home.

Families Served: 797

The average household income for a BCS family is $42,830 a year.

Food: 9,729,682 lbs.

280 food growers, processors, distributors, and retailers gave to feed working, struggling families.

Household Goods: 453,199 lbs.

Companies like Costco and Bed Bath & Beyond provided generously.

Clothing: 623,263 lbs.

Generous individuals, companies, and nonprofits gave surplus and used clothing to help working poor families.

Work Boots: 31,410 lbs.

Local footwear manufacturers provided new, returned, and demo model boots and shoes to help people secure and retain labor related jobs.

Total Pounds Redistributed: 9,729,682 lbs.

BCS relied on 1,000+ volunteers giving over 21,000 hours of service to redistribute over 9 million pounds of product in 2016.

Median Time on Program: 32 months

A typical family will spend approximately two years on the BCS program and in that time they will usually make substantial progress on financial goals they identify at the start of the program.

Average Increase in Emergency Savings: 98%

Our survey of families who graduated from BCS shows that the typical family spends 32 months on our program and in that time is able to increase their savings by 98%.  This savings often represents an emergency cushion that allows families to address an unforeseen car repair or leaky roof with their own money rather than credit.

Average Reduction in Monthly Debt: 28%

Through practicing responsibility in the context of accountability, each family identifies and regularly reviews progress toward their goals. During their time on the program, the average family is able to reduce their monthly debt payments by 28%.

Hours of Training: 1,447

Thanks to the coordination efforts of Jane Woods, 1,447 hours of educational classes such as money management, Microsoft Excel, couponing and cooking helped participants save money and learn skills to earn a better income.