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Organization has assisted more than 32,000 people and distributed millions of pounds of food.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The anniversary event featured 25 booths for vistitors to get tasty food to eat on the site and take home.For the Lopez family, Birch Community Services was a lifesaver. The family was struggling after welcoming a new child into the world, which, when paired with the loss of hours by Tim Lopez at work, led to them being below the poverty line.

"Birch is what enabled us to pay the bills and feed our kids and clothe them," Tim said in a testimonial. "To be able to maintain a food budget and still eat healthy food that's grown in the ground is absolutely incredible."

The Lopez family's story was just one of many shared during Birch Community Services' 25th anniversary celebration. The nationally acclaimed organization dedicated to helping families in need decided to use the milestone as a chance to say thanks and to do something special for everyone who has helped it grow through the years.

"We are so thankful for what everyone in the community has done for us," said Suzanne Birch, cofounder and executive director. "That is why we wanted to have this celebration be for them."

The organization, located in Gresham's Wilkes East Neighborhood, marked the anniversary with a ribbon cutting on Friday, Sept. 29, followed by an open house on Saturday. The minds behind the celebration didn't want to make it about fundraising, but rather as a way to give thanks to community members who have supported the organization.

"Our theme is 'growing in gratitude,'" said Madeline Allen, development and communications manager. "We wanted to use this event as a way to thank all of the donors and participants."

Every attendee was given a passport filled with information on all of the product donors at the event, and a "swag bag" to hold all of the goodies being given out. There were 25 donors highlighted, along with statistics showing how much they had donated through the years. Many were well more than 1 million pounds, including top donor Pepsi, which has given Birch Community Services 3.3 million pounds since 2012.

Those working their way through the booths got to sample delicious food and fill their bags with items to take home, including baked goods, candy, jerky, soda, chips, jam, fruit and much more. By the end of the day, everyone's bags were bursting at the seams.

"It doesn't feel like it's been 25 years, even though it feels like I've done nothing else," Birch said. "None of this would be possible without all of these people."

Suzanne and Barry Birch launched Birch Community Services in 1992, after someone left a donated bag of squished bread on their front porch. The couple shared the bread with some single mothers and other families in need in their neighborhood. Within weeks, more retailers were donating surplus food, spurred by the Birch's spirit of giving.

That spirit has continued to grow through the years, and Birch Community Services has become one of the largest food-distribution programs in Oregon. Its mission is to provide and nurture a community where people can be responsible and accountable for meeting their basic needs

Barry served as the executive director for the first 13 years, later becoming a key volunteer. He passed away in 2015. Suzanne has continued as executive director.

Birch Community Services provides clients with personal-finance training, known as the Sustainable Families Program, which equips them with the skills necessary for becoming self-sufficient. It also helps participants with food and clothing.

Through the years the organization has served more than 32,000 people, redistributed more than 50 million pounds of product and led countless families to financial freedom.

Looking toward the future, there is still a lot the organization wants to accomplish, including finding a permanent space in the community to call home. They are currently leasing the location at 17780 N.E. San Rafael St., and would love to find a location they own in the same area.

"I'm not ready to leave yet," Birch said. "We are excited about our education program and finding new ways to connect with families in need."

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