Commentary: Assist United Way as It Again Rushes to the Forefront of Disaster Response

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I was standing outside a makeshift warehouse for disaster donations in Chehalis back in early 2008 when I asked United Way of Lewis County Executive Director Debbie Campbell a question I already knew the answer to. 

How are you feeling? 

“Exhausted,” she replied.

There was a good reason for her weariness. 

The lightly staffed nonprofit organization had placed itself at the tip of the spear when it came to countering the disastrous effects of the Chehalis River flooding of December 2007 with financial support from donors.

It wasn’t in the United Way of Lewis County’s mission statement to be the chief responder for collecting and distributing much needed money, furniture, clothes and household items to flood-soaked residents. The organization wasn’t required, by any means, to take on the monumental task of beginning to help put their community back together after some areas were literally torn apart. 

Nevertheless, they stepped up and got the job done, collecting and distributing well over $1 million in addition to other donations. 

They were starting to rebuild lives before federal boots hit the ground. 

“I remember FEMA coming in (during the 2007 floods) and saying ‘woah, woah, wait minute, there’s going to be money coming,’ you know, after you fill out all the forms,” Campbell recalled in an interview with The Chronicle last week. “We were like ‘no, we’re hitting the ground running’ because people want to give, they want to take care of their neighbors now.”

The United Way of Lewis County — joined by many equally important partners — is off and running again. 

This time, it’s the specter of the frightening yet still unknown impacts of a pandemic. 

The local branch of the United Way and the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound have worked together to establish the Lewis County COVID-19 Response Fund, a way to collect money and respond to local needs even as state and local leaders are trying to work through other measures of aid through the bureaucratic maze. 

Already, the fund is helping feed the very senior citizens who face the greatest risks from exposure to COVID-19. 

While many of us are more or less able to simply hunker down at home and wait this thing out — with the exception of a quick trip to the grocery store to stock up on supplies  — many seniors will find themselves without a healthy meal after the closure of county senior centers and calls for them to remain in their homes. 

With a donation of $3,000 from Centralia-based Law Firm of Althauser, Rayan and Abbarno, the partners behind the Lewis County COVID-19 Response Fund can purchase 1,000 meals for senior citizens who should no longer be going out in public. 

If that seems like a small step, that’s because it is. 

But it also makes a major impact in the lives of individuals who call Lewis County home. 

I’d like to encourage others who are able to consider building on the spirit of that first business donation with their own financial commitment to the community.

The United Way of Lewis County and its partner agencies have a long, proven history of effectiveness, and they’re best positioned to help the most vulnerable among us who perhaps can’t help themselves. 

“In times like this, it’s important to remember that as a community, this is who we are,” said Jakob McGhie, a partner at Althauser, Rayan and Abbarno. “We rise up and help one another because it’s important, when you’re a part of a community, to protect and provide for your community in times like this.”

United Way of Lewis County has protected and provided for us, from massive floods to support for a network of nonprofits that feed, clothe and educate the community. 

Let’s help them and their partners provide for others. 

The Lewis County COVID-19 Response Fund is designed to complement the work of public health officials. The knowledge and experience of the United Way of Lewis County and the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound paired with the expertise of public health officials will likely be a strong and effective combination.  

Donations can be made at lewiscountyuw.com. 

Individual and corporate gifts can also be made in person or by mail at United Way of Lewis County, located at 450 NW Pacific Ave. in Chehalis. 

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Eric Schwartz is regional executive editor for Lafromboise Communications. He can be reached at eschwartz@chronline.com.

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