Gather Church has been on the front lines helping Lewis County citizens weather the storm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March, the church has been delivering 700 to 1,000 food boxes to citizens from Pe Ell to Packwood every week. Pastor Cole Meckle estimated that one million pounds of food have been delivered to Lewis County residents in the past six months.
The church is also operating a COVID-response rent assistance program using CARES Act funds from the city of Centralia to help citizens get caught up on rent, mortgage payments or utility bills.
Gather Church still has about $50,000 left in CARES Act funding available. Meckle encouraged everyone who needs help to apply. The church has fully paid off overdue rent, mortgage and utility payments for about 25 people since receiving the CARES Act funds from the city of Centralia.
“We would rather have someone apply and figure out they don’t qualify than not apply at all,” Meckle said. “We’re looking to get people completely caught up on back payments.”
The deadline to apply for rent assistance is Nov. 10. Centralia citizens can get more information on how to apply by emailing Patty Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“They just have to show us that their ability to pay has been impeded by the coronavirus. If people are behind on payments, even if they don’t know if they qualify, they should fill out an application,” Meckle said. “And there’s no shame — this stuff happens.”
Gov. Jay Inslee has extended the moratorium on evictions until the end of the year and for those who are struggling financially due to the effects of COVID-19, rent and utility payments have been piling up.
“We work with people daily that are homeless and we know how hard it is for someone who has lost housing to find housing again,” Meckle said.
They have also been reaching out to landlords to let them know that the rent assistance program is available for their tenants.
Food Lifeline and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) are the primary organizations supplying Gather Church with the food that is being distributed across the county. The food is being transported and delivered by volunteer drivers each week.
Gather Church has organized seven to 15 routes throughout the county for deliveries and Meckle said that since they receive the food at a discounted rate, as long as they have people willing to drive, they can keep the program going indefinitely.
“It’s a real collaborative effort. There are a number of other churches that send drivers and food packers. It’s been great to see people rally and get involved,” said Meckle.
The boxes include canned goods, produce, meat and milk that should last a family of four a week.
Meckle said it takes about 30 volunteers to run the food box delivery program from drivers, box packers and people planning the routes.
“At the end of the day people are having a hard time accessing the food that they need and we’re here to help them deal with that. It’s a range of reasons from poverty to lack of transportation to people just feeling really uncomfortable going to the store,” Meckle said.