In March, when COVID-19 restrictions first hit Lewis County residents, Twin Transit, United Way of Lewis County and Lewis County Seniors came together to spearhead an effort that provided seniors with meals at their homes, while COVID-19 caused them to stay home.
“Lewis County Seniors made the meals, United Way handled volunteer recruitment and fundraising, and Twin Transit managed delivery and logistics,” according to a press release. “Under this collaborative model, the group was able to meet rapidly expanding need, growing to serve over 658 seniors 4,600 meals per week.”
Now, that effort has morphed into the Lewis County Community Services Coalition, a group composed of representation from organizations including Bethel Church, Hub City Mission, Lewis County Health and Social Services, Rural Senior Health Solutions, Cascade Community Healthcare, Gather Church, Salvation Army, Visiting Nurses, Catholic Community Services, Lewis County mask makers, Lewis County Veterans and most recently KACS Radio Network.
“Everyone already does such good work,” said Twin Transit Community Relations Director Andrea Culletto. “We’re just trying to be a collaborative space for people to get the tools they need to do that work as effectively as possible and, you know, it’s just more fun together, frankly.”
For Patty Howard, associate pastor at Gather Church in Centralia, the collaboration resulted in additional cold storage for the church to store food from its food box delivery program overnight.
She said Gather transitioned its food bank from an in-person, pick-up model to a service in which meals are delivered in March. Before the delivery service, Howard said the food bank was receiving “around 4,000” pounds of food each week.
That figure jumped to 16,000-18,000 pounds of food per week once the delivery model was implemented. That’s led to the delivery of “around 700” food boxes per week, for what Howard said has been the last couple of weeks.
“We didn’t have the cold storage or the freezer space to store all of this food,” Howard said. “We get our food delivered on Wednesday and we pack boxes and pass them out Thursdays and Fridays, so we needed a place to store the extra food.”
She said Twin Transit Director Joe Clark mentioned the idea of storing the food at James W. Lintott Elementary School.
“Our crew and the senior meals crew do a really fantastic job of sharing space and we are in-and-out quickly enough that we don’t interfere with what they’re doing,” Howard said. “It’s been great.”
Howard said the beauty of the coalition is the fact that everyone involved is able to do what they do best.
“As we come up with places where we have needs, like for us, was the cold storage, or, where someone comes to us with a need that we can’t meet, we have a place to go to voice that need,” Howard said. “It gets met by somebody for whom that thing is their wheelhouse.”
The Community Service Coalition has shown Culletto what the potential of local organizations coming together in this particular fashion would look like after the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the model has also caught the attention of state representatives from around Washington.
“This started because of COVID-19, but the goal is that it’ll continue well beyond COVID-19,” Culletto said. “We were reached out to by state representatives asking us to share our model for this group, because they’d like to replicate it across the state. It’s just a really cool thing, it shines a spotlight on what we’ve done down here in Lewis County.”
In her time spent in Lewis County, Culletto said she’s seen the unique spirit of the community first-hand.
“I’ve lived all over the United States and a little bit outside of it. I’ve never seen a community come together like this one does,” Culletto said. “It’s phenomenal. Some people credit it to, you know, we’ve got practice, right, after the (2007) flood, but I just think it’s the quality of the people we have here.”
Those people, Howard says, are exactly who the Lewis County Community Service Coalition aims to help through uncertain times.
“I guess I would want (Lewis County residents) to know that they live in a place where people care about them,” Howard said. “That’s our goal, to care about people, that’s our goal at Gather, absolutely, 100 percent of the time and I see that as a goal of the coalition, to just care about the people of our county and make sure they’re okay.”