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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 18 February 2009

The United Way, Oregon Food Bank, and Community Action Programs in all four metro-area counties this week announced the formation of the Community Relief Fund to shore up the strained community safety net.
This appeal for emergency funds will help support families who have been hardest hit in the economic crisis with basic needs like food, rent, and utilities.
The coalition is urging people to support local families by giving to the Community Relief Fund, which is made up of agencies and programs in the front lines of responding to the needs of families and individuals in crisis.
Organizers said 100 percent of donations will go directly to local programs - no overhead costs will be deducted. United Way will coordinate donations for the regional campaign. 
The Community Relief Fund comes at a time when social service agencies in the four-county region are experiencing the strain of skyrocketing demand for services, says Rick Nitti, executive director of Neighborhood House, an agency that provides a wide range of support services to families and individuals in southwest Portland.
"This partnership is so important, because there is so much unmet need," he said. "Not only are we seeing a much higher demand in emergency food, rental or energy assistance, we are also seeing a change in the 'face' of those we help.
"Beyond people who have experienced generational poverty, or new immigrants and refugees, we are seeing more people from middle class backgrounds seeking help," he said.
In the four-county area, an estimated 96,700 people are looking for work, twice what it was last year. Demand at regional food banks is up more than 20 percent over the same period last year. Calls to 2-1-1 for resources were up 40 percent in the past three months. Utility companies are reporting than one in five of their customers are having difficulties paying bills.
"We see such a huge unmet need here in Mid and East County, especially for housing, food, clothing, medications, and other basic needs," says Jean DeMaster, executive director, Human Solutions. The organization serves the Gresham area, providing emergency services for homeless families, job training, rent assistance, and more.
"While there should be a safety net for those most vulnerable in our community -- young children, seniors, people with disabilities, and others - there are many other very vulnerable people in our community who simply fall through the cracks," she said.
Partner agencies will form an oversight group that will determine how money will be allocated based on where people are going for services. The group will also monitor providers to ensure every dollar is used effectively and efficiently.
"Individuals, businesses and organizations are really concerned about the impacts of the economic crisis on our community," said Jerralynn Ness, executive director, Community Action of Washington County. "We are really pleased to be part of this partnership, because it allows people to be part of the solution, and make a difference in the lives of families."

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