As areas of the country go, Umatilla and Morrow counties are doing pretty well economically, thanks largely to central location in the Northwest, agriculture and Eastern Oregon resilience. The Pacific Northwest continues to be a growth region, and Umatilla and Morrow counties have the land, brainpower and transportation means to help serve that growth.
But it's hard to ignore the danger signs in the national and glabal economies and the fact we are all economically connected - eventually.
I recently talked to a young couple whose car had a major breakdown months ago heading into Pendleton on the way to the East Coast. They had a 2-year-old child and a baby and just enough money to put down a deposit on a motel room. But their luck turned better when their daughter met kids playing in Til Taylor Park, across Court Avenue from the Pioneer Relief Nursery.
The mother of the 2-year-old inquired and found out the Pioneer Nursery started up several months ago to help families with young children in need of better parenting skills and resources. Some of the families are referred to the program because the parents have been found guilty of abusing or neglecting their children. That was not the case with the family traveling across country. They simply needed instruction on such basics as toilet training, breast feeding, use of a drinking cup, playing well with others, cleaning up after yourself etc., and they needed a hand up.
Pioneer Relief Nursery - one of 10 such programs in Oregon - also puts families in touch with agencies that can help with getting jobs and finding housing. In that way, Pioneer networks with others who are helping low-resource families. Which gets around to the point of this column.
We don't know how long or deep the recession will go. But it stands to reason each of our communities will increasingly need a network of churches and various agencies to help meet the needs of families without jobs or housing or transportation. Those community networks vary of course from loose to well organized.
Pendleton's network includes such agencies as the Salvation Army and Helping Hand, supported by Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, and St. Mary's Outreach of the Catholic Church. They provide food products to those in need and act as agents for the assistance programs of CAPECO, the community action agency for several counties in northeast Oregon.
One of the strongest such agencies is the Agape House in Hermiston. Agape is kind of the nerve center for the network of help agencies serving the greater West End. Agape provides food in Hermiston in conjunction with churches - Christian, Nazarene, United Methodist and Catholic. But on a yearly budget of $300,000, Agape's Dave Hughes and his staff provide varying amounts of food to Umatilla, Stanfield, Irrigon, Ukiah, Milton-Freewater, Heppner and Pendleton.
One of the most striking things about Agape is the way it networks, communicates with other agencies, works with them and shares resources. Agape benefits from getting used construction materials from Home Depot and from a contractor, and it gets flour from Pendleton Flour Mills.
Executive Director Dave Hughes focuses on e-mail as the most effective way to network. Recent examples: Agape alerted its fellow agencies it had work station modules, newspaper roll-ends and 6- by 10-foot rugs from Home Depot to share. Head Start messaged that it needed a crib, which Agape had. state human resources and a domestic violence agency ask questions. Agape and Salvation Army, both Hermiston and Pendleton, try to help each other.
Agape has put on seminars for non-profit agencies on such subjects as using the media to get across your message and on building revenue. Hughes said Agape gets 80 percent of its funds from 15 Hermiston churches, other local givers, the Wildhorse Foundation, a few grants and from a thrift store that makes a profit some months in Hermiston.
If you want to help the Agape House, you can call Hughes at (541) 571-7293 or write to him at P.O. Box 1723, Hermiston, OR. 97838.
As for the Pioneer Relief Nursery in Pendleton, questions and donations may be sent to 715 SE Court Ave., Pendleton, OR. 97801. Or call Director Kelly Sager at (541) 215-1017.
On Saturday, a benefit for Pioneer will be held at the East Oregonian in Pendleton, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the EO's conference room. New and gently used baby clothing, toys and gear will be on sale - cash only. Please use the entrance on S.E. Third Street.
Mike Forrester of Pendleton is the East Oregonian Publishing Company's chairman of the board.