Operation Nightwatch is an organization that has been providing clothing, food, shelter and friendship to Portland’s unhoused community since 1981. Many houseless individuals are isolated from society and judged too harshly for their situations.
The organization provides what they call radical hospitality, which is a disruption to the negative cycles of poverty and exclusion, entailing an outward expression to stand with one’s community, particularly with those who are at society’s margins.
As many as 100 people will consistently stop by to take advantage of the hot coffee and shelter that Operation Nightwatch offers. It is also one of the only hospitality centers that stay open through the night.
Operation Nightwatch offers not only the basic necessities that some Portlanders do not have access to, but also an environment where they can build friendships with staff and volunteers. Building relationships is an important part of the organization. The staff and volunteers aim to get to know everyone individually and form a connection where there is trust and where guests feel safe and cared for.
They can also access free individual counseling sessions through their own Mental Health Initiative. The initiative recently went through a transformation made possible by a large grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, allowing Operation Nightwatch to offer housing and mental health support to people who identify as female or non-gender conforming.
Matt Kosderka, head baseball coach, partnered with Operation Nightwatch to extend the organization’s reach.
“A couple years ago, I asked the guys to come up with some ideas they wanted to do and a couple of our guys came up with a group called Operation Nightwatch,” Kosderka said.
Kosderka, along with six or seven volunteers from the baseball team, began to spend time downtown at a food and recreation hall where houseless people could keep warm. It was a life-changing experience for both the coach and his players. They decided to become more involved in acts of service.
“We decided to put together a clothing drive that helps as many people as possible,” Kosderka said. “You know, the folks are out on the street in the wintertime … you can only imagine what that’s like.”
The donations have mostly come from inside Lewis & Clark’s Department of Physical Education and Athletics, but Kosderka hopes to involve the rest of the community and receive more donations for Portland’s underserved population.
“I don’t know if I’ve really done a good enough job of really getting it out there as much as I’d like to — it has been mainly from within our team bringing stuff in,” Kosderka said. “We’ve been able to give anywhere from like six-to-eight duffel bags full of stuff, which is a nice amount. I’d love to make it even bigger and be able to help as many people as possible.”
He encourages the LC community to consider spending time volunteering in Portland.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time,” Kosderka said. “I know everybody’s really busy in this crazy time of year, especially with finals coming up, but a couple hours of your week are definitely something you could volunteer for.”
To make a donation, community members can reach out directly to Kosderka or bring clothing to the baseball office located in the Pamplin Sports Center. The most useful things to donate are lightly-used clothing or shoes, blankets, backpacks, warm jackets and waterproof layers.
Jacob Serafini ’20 was on the baseball team when Kosderka first partnered with Operation Nightwatch.
“I think having people understand that these experiences expand your horizons and viewpoints more,” Serafini said. “I think it will help you more than anything you can study or anything you can do in a classroom.”
The hospitality center is an intimate space, equipped with chairs, tables and a television. Operation Nightwatch works hard to create a comfortable environment where guests can relax and recuperate.
“It’s just an opportunity to get off the cold, wet streets and into a very intimate, warm environment,” Serafini said.
Kosderka has also worked with other organizations so that his players and the greater community can become involved in helping others.
“There’s a group of folks in Portland called Friends of Baseball, who help kids who maybe wouldn’t have the opportunity to play baseball,” Kosderka said.
The team set out bins of baseball equipment including balls, hats and gloves for children and their families to take.
“Just seeing the kids smile and get pictures with the big Portland Pickle mascot was awesome, everyone loved it,” Serafini said.