Help Desperate Women, and Give the Homeless Dignity

This article is part of Times Opinion’s Holiday Giving Guide 2022. Read more about the guide in a note from Opinion’s editor, Kathleen Kingsbury.

Reporting this column, I frequently speak to people who work at nonprofits, since they often serve those whose lives are caught up in the currents of our politics. For this year’s holiday giving guide, I want to highlight two small organizations that have particularly impressed me this year.

Because of the end of Roe v. Wade, I’ve spent even more time than usual in 2022 writing about reproductive rights. For those inspired to donate by outrage over abortion bans, there are many great options, from giants like Planned Parenthood to local, grass-roots abortion funds. To that list, I’d like to add the Brigid Alliance, because it’s helping to fill a need that’s been terribly exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s decision: funding travel for people who need abortions.

Odile Schalit, a social worker in New York, started the Brigid Alliance in 2018 with just herself and a part-time coordinator. “What was clear at the time was that travel was becoming the primary barrier to abortion access,” she said. As states ratcheted up abortion restrictions, many women had to trek, sometimes across multiple states, to end their pregnancies, which could be prohibitively expensive.

The Brigid Alliance stepped in, booking plane, bus or train tickets and funding child care, hotels and meals for people who needed to go long distances for abortion care. It now has 15 employees and helps upward of 125 clients a month, and is expanding so that next year it will be able to work with about 200 a month.

Not surprisingly, demand for the group’s assistance is increasing. Women typically get connected to the Brigid Alliance through either abortion clinics or abortion funds, organizations that help cover the price of the procedure for those who can’t afford it. Since Roe was overturned, referrals are up 50 percent. Often, Schalit told me, women are being forced to wait weeks or even a month for appointments, because the clinics that are still standing are all booked up.

It’s hard for me to imagine the horror of carrying an unwanted pregnancy for weeks longer than necessary, potentially edging close to a state’s cutoff date. Even more awful, though, would be missing a desperately needed appointment because it costs too much to get there.

Incidentally, the Brigid Alliance is named after St. Brigid of Kildare, who, according to one hagiography, laid hands on a woman who got pregnant after breaking a vow of chastity, causing “the fetus to disappear without coming to birth, and without pain.” Apparently, the “abortion miracle” was a motif in early medieval Irish Catholicism. A lot of people could use such miracles right now.

In October, I visited Blanchet House, a homeless services organization in Portland, Ore., while reporting on the role of the city’s homelessness crisis in the state’s gubernatorial race. Blanchet House serves three free meals a day to anyone who wants them, and I was particularly moved by how it serves them. The dining room is an airy, light-filled space dotted with four-top tables. Diners are served restaurant-style, by volunteers who also walk around refilling cups and busing tables. Sometimes, the meal services feature live piano music.

“The idea is that they’re our guests, and they’re here to enjoy their meal without any expectation of giving something in return,” Scott Kerman, the organization’s executive director, told me. It’s an ethos that comes from the socialist Catholic Worker movement, which influenced the people who founded Blanchet House 70 years ago.

By seating people together at small tables, Blanchet House hopes to foster social connections. “Loneliness is a significant problem for people who are houseless, and especially for some of the elderly and disabled people who may be housed in the region. They come here because they can’t use their benefits on hot prepared food, but also for the community,” said Kerman. “One of the things people will say is that eating here makes them feel normal again.”

Blanchet House does much more than just feed people. It has a small medical clinic on site — the group is hoping to expand it into the building next door — and residential facilities for people recovering from addiction. This year, almost 150 men took part in the organization’s transitional housing program, staying for an average of nine months. About a third of them lived on Blanchet House’s farm in Yamhill County, gardening, caring for animals and learning skills like woodworking while they began to put their lives back together.

“A lot of recovery programs are very cerebral — meetings, journaling, reading, things like that,” Kerman said. “What the farm provides, sometimes, is that missing link, and that’s the chance to be outdoors in nature, to work with your hands.”

Luxury rehab programs, of course, are often set in bucolic rural settings. I admire the way Blanchet House strives to provide the poor with some of the same holistic care that the rich take for granted. The organization’s budget is relatively small — $2.9 million in 2023 — and they receive no public funding for their programs, so donations have a big impact. I hope you’ll consider giving.

This article is part of Times Opinion’s Holiday Giving Guide 2022. The author has no direct connection to the organizations mentioned. If you are interested in the organizations mentioned, please go directly to their websites. Neither the author nor The Times will be able to address queries about the groups or facilitate donations.

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