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'Open Arms' group helps 5,000 in need annually

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Amy Graves and her father, Lee Roundtree, moves chairs around in the Open Arms and Helping Hands warehouse.Deacon Jim Pittman has always worried about those less fortunate, and nine years ago he decided to do something.

With only two garages and a storage locker, Pittman began to collect donations to help people in need. Then, four years ago, he built a warehouse on the grounds of Milwaukie’s Christ the King Catholic Church. Now, he and a group of about 150 dedicated volunteers gather and organize donations of household goods and other necessary items.

Pittman, who is a member of the ordained clergy at the church, called the private, nonprofit organization Open Arms and Helping Hands, and he is most proud that no one is charged a dime for any of the services.

by: PHOTO BY: ELLEN SPITALERI - Deacon Jim Pittman stands at the entrance to the warehouse, located on the grounds of Christ the King Catholic Church.“Many of the nonprofits still charge, but no matter what your color, creed or religion, we never charge anyone, and we don’t make people read the Bible,” Pittman said.

The name of the organization stems from what the volunteers do.

“It is what we are all about. We have open arms to welcome anyone, and we use our helping hands to help them,” Pittman said.

He noted that everyone seeking help needs to be screened by a social services agency before coming to the warehouse, although students may work with a school counselor, who can refer them to Open Arms and Helping Hands.

People can go to the normal places and agencies where they seek help, he said, or contact him by phone for a screening.

The warehouse accepts donations of gently used household items and winter clothes. The most requested items include beds, small dressers and large and small appliances, Pittman said.

“We need the basics that people take for granted. Things like pots, pans, dishes, linens. I have five people looking for a stove and 25 people looking for washers, dryers and refrigerators,” he said.

“It is really sad how many people don’t have anything,” Pittman added.

St. Vincent de Paul has set up a location next door for emergency food boxes, but, he noted, people need to call St. Vincent de Paul to set up an appointment for the food pantry.

Community Help

In 2012, Open Arms and Helping Hands helped about 5,000 individuals, and already Pittman is seeing an upswing in need.

“There are a lot of homeless in Clackamas County, including a lot of children. We are not even touching the iceberg — we’re a band-aid. We help a tremendous amount of people, but for us to help people in need, we need people to help us,” Pittman said.

“We need the community’s help so we can help those in need,” he added.

Donations of gently used household items are always appreciated to re-stock the warehouse, and volunteers will pick up donations; monetary donations are also appreciated, to pay for fuel costs, Pittman said.

“We don’t deliver a lot, because it is too expensive, but we recently had a young lady, 18 years old, with a 2-year-old baby and a newborn. We took tremendous amounts of stuff out to her and found that she was living in a trailer with no heat, and she was sleeping on the floor.”

Two of his volunteers bought heaters with their own money, and when they returned with them, found she had put all the donations away and the house was “clean as could be. That is the kind of person we try to help; we are here to help people who can’t help themselves,” Pittman said.

Volunteers still needed

Volunteers are always needed, and come from all over the area; some are even former clients from a few years ago, Pittman said, noting that volunteers do not need to be churchgoers, or be members of Christ the King Catholic Church.

Amy Graves and her father, Lee Roundtree, have been volunteers with Open Arms and Helping Hands for three years.

Graves does volunteer in the warehouse, but mostly focuses on marketing and the website, while her father helps with pickups, loading up his truck and off-loading it at the warehouse.

“It is very fulfilling, very worthwhile and helps a lot of people,” Roundtree said, adding that “the hard part is not being able to help everyone.”

Since more and more children are in need, students at Christ the King Parish School have begun putting together birthday boxes for kids.

Donations are always needed, and they go “to a good cause; directly to the people who need them,” Roundtree said, noting that volunteers are needed to just work a few hours a week.

The big problem is letting everyone know that Open Arms and Helping Hands exists and needs donations to help the needy, Graves said. “We need to spread the word; people aren’t even aware that we are here. We need to target more people who can give.”

Fast Facts

Open Arms and Helping Hands, a private, nonprofit dedicated to helping those in need in Clackamas County.

Call Deacon Jim Pittman at 503-785-2415, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to make an appointment for a screening, or to volunteer with the organization.

Donations are gladly accepted Tuesday and Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The warehouse is at 7414 S.E. Michael Drive, in Milwaukie.

Monetary donations may be sent to Open Arms and Helping Hands, at P.O. Box 1027, Clackamas, OR 97015. Visit the website at helpinghands.horsleyfamily.com for more information.

To contact St. Vincent de Paul’s Emergency Service Center for food boxes, call 503-235-8431.



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