By Nancy Varekamp | CNews Editor
Beth Ronk serves immigrant communities as not only a teacher, but also as a volunteer.
All 11 years she has lived in the Concordia and Cully neighborhoods, Beth has taught English as an additional language – first in public schools and now for individual children and/or their parents in their homes.
“It just kind of naturally goes with your work,” she explained. Beth is in a position to identify needs being underserved by available programs, especially in Clackamas County.
“With the pandemic, I lost a few students and had some extra time. It’s easy to fill it with work, even though it’s volunteer work.”
Last September – with the pandemic raging and fires destroying homes – she and others in immigrant rights and social justice groups formed a partnership they dubbed Immigrant Mutual Aid Coalition (IMAC). Those organizations include:
- Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice
- American Friends Service Committee
- Never Again Action
- Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste
- Familias en Acción
“We had all worked together in other volunteer efforts, and we realized we needed to shift our concerns to response, together,” Beth said.
Each organization has connections to the community and to each other. “It didn’t take a lot of promotion,” she recalled. Within two days, IMAC launched its first distribution of food, household goods and hygiene necessities.
Every two or three weeks since, there have been other distributions at a Clackamas County church that draw 300 to 400 families from the Portland area and elsewhere in the state.
“We are seeing more and more families from east and northeast Portland as the weeks go,” Beth said. And IMAC was prompt to help residents displaced by the January Villa de Clara Vista fire on Cully Boulevard. That included several hundred dollars in gift cards.
IMAC clients are largely Latinx, and Beth appreciates help from the Oregon Food Bank to provide culturally appropriate food products. “It’s important to provide people with food that they would purchase themselves, especially during stressful times,” Beth said.
Due to the nature of the organizations in the coalition, IMAC is also able to help families improve their access to resources like healthcare and unemployment benefits.
Although the needs of IMAC’s clients have not subsided substantially, the volunteers and member organizations are already looking forward.
“What do our efforts look like post pandemic, once people can get back inside a building?” Beth asked.
“We’re thinking about what other opportunities can be created to have the community participate even more.”
Nancy Varekamp is semiretired from her career in journalism, public relations and – her favorite work engagement – writing and editing targeted newsletters.