Robin Frojen: OSU Creamery and Pilot Plant manager
Years at OSU: Seven
City of Residence: South Corvallis
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Robin Frojen, whose day job involves working with delicious cheeses at the OSU Creamery, was well positioned to assist some of Corvallis’ most vulnerable residents.
In early July 2019, a group of 23 homeless campers moved onto property owned by the First Congregational United Church of Christ, which Frojen attends. The campers had been expelled from another camp site and needed a place to stay. The church community came together and decided to support rather than expel them, but that put them at odds with neighbors living near the church.
Frojen found herself drawn to help the campers, and used her leadership skills to assist the camp manager, conduct weekly resident meetings, and help mediate conflict both within the camp and with outside groups.
“We are creating a transitional housing place of safety and support,” Frojen said. “I have done some help for the homeless like passing out holiday meals or clothes, but until this group showed up on our church property, I had no idea this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Frojen is inspired in her work by church pastor Jen Butler, who in response to neighborhood opposition placed a banner on the side of the church reading “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore him on Monday?”
“That was pretty much it for me, I was in it to win it,” Frojen said.
But then things changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It quickly moved beyond providing basic support for the campers at the church. Frojen became involved more broadly with homeless protection and support across the city. Because the men’s shelter was closed due to fear of the virus spreading in close quarters, more camps have sprung up at various locations. That led construction companies to donate labor to build microshelters. Frojen and others are identifying the most medically fragile homeless campers and are placing them in isolated shelters to help protect them from the virus as much as possible.
Frojen spends the weekends at the camp, giving the camp manager time off and making sure that things stay safe. She prepares meals as well. She said she’s trying to apply the lessons she’s learned at her OSU job to the work she’s doing with the homeless community.
“I’ve really learned to meet people where they are at. We all have the same basic needs, but that doesn’t mean that we want all the same things,” she said. “Learning to meet each person, each student, each colleague, each family member, everyone, where they are at.”
The current situation has encouraged Frojen to become even more kind and more willing to offer grace to herself and to others.
“These are challenging times. I’m scared of the unknown, the uncertainty, of all sorts of things right now,” she said. “I also know that I’m not going to turn down a challenge.”
For more information on Frojen’s work: https://corvallisucc.org/safe-camp/
~ Theresa Hogue
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