The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown restrictions had just been put into effect when community member Charles Siegfried read that Multnomah County was looking for volunteers to help at its expanded shelters for community members experiencing homelessness. He had experience with Transition Projects in the past and was excited for the opportunity to help “anybody dealing with the intense catastrophe of homelessness.”
He began volunteering at Multnomah County’s Oregon Convention Center emergency shelter in the dorm station where he would hand out hygiene kits and clothing, and help clean showers and bathrooms.
“I wanted to make sure guests of the shelter had a clean, safe space,” he says.
“When I would smile at them and greet them with happiness, [the shelter guests] knew I wanted them to have a good day, they knew I wanted them to be their best selves by giving folks a meal,” Siegfried continued. “Making sure they are safe in their living space, you can give houseless folks an opportunity to find housing, find jobs, and find positivity.”
For Siegfried, not even inclement weather would stop him from serving those in need. During the snowstorm in [February], Siegfried again volunteered, this time commuting by foot from his house in Northeast Portland to the emergency severe weather shelter in the Metro garage near the Convention Center. There, he saw the kind of impact that showing up for his fellow community members could have.
When volunteering, Siegfried said that he always tried to push himself to do more than what was expected and to help ease the workload of shelter staff. He encourages others thinking about volunteering to do the same.
“They work extremely hard. When I was there I saw my role as helping the shelter staff who have to work this job 40 hours a week, sometimes overtime covering other shifts, sometimes stressed out,” he says.
Siegfried was joined as a panelist by Cynthia Palormo, who volunteers at the Emergency Operations Center. They are just two of the many volunteers who stepped up by the thousands since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to join Multnomah Counting in serving the community.
From March 2020 to March 2021, Multnomah County volunteers gave over 11,500 hours to help keep the community safe, care for shelter guests, direct community members to health clinics and vaccination events, and provide administrative support. Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners celebrated the hard work of these volunteers by proclaiming the week of April 18 as Volunteer Week to “recognize the invaluable contributions of volunteers to supporting safe, healthy, and equitable communities.”
“We’re so fortunate to have people like Charles and Cynthia who have, quite frankly, made it their mission to serve others,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “It reminds me of that saying, ‘service is the price we pay for the privilege of living on this earth,’ and I think you two really embody that.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson thanked Siegfried and Palormo for sharing their stories, calling it, “a great example of how truly wonderful our volunteers are and how you guys step up and go above and beyond in all the ways you serve the community.”
“This year has stretched us in ways that we couldn’t have possibly imagined, and there’s no way that Multnomah County could have been there for our community in the ways that we were if the members of the community hadn’t stepped up with their volunteer time, their skills, and their presence to partner with us,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said.
“I know that so many volunteers were experiencing the same challenges, anxieties and concerns that were brought on by the pandemic along with the rest of the community, but it really speaks volumes to your character and to your generosity that you still put the time and effort into being part of something bigger. I can’t overstate how grateful I am to both of you.”