Local charities are experiencing a lot of ups and downs as the COVID-19 pandemic slashes volunteer bases and cancels fundraising events. It’s all happening as demand for services rises.
Yet, leaders at five nonprofits say this chaotic environment has also highlighted the community’s willingness to help during a crisis:
Clark County Food Bank
On Tuesday morning, the Clark County Food Bank announced it would hold a drive-thru food distribution at its warehouse. By 3 p.m., cars were lined up along Northeast Minnehaha Street and 47th Avenue, their drivers waiting to get a food box for themselves or someone they knew.
The effort was prompted by a resurgence in food donated through the Fresh Alliance program. Earlier in the pandemic, store shelves were bare, so the food bank wasn’t receiving donations from grocery stores.
Now, donations are almost back to normal levels, said Alan Hamilton, food bank president. Also, the food bank received a shipment of food it ordered in mid-March. Tuesday’s drive-thru distribution was a way to give out perishable produce, meat and dairy before the products went bad. Volunteers and staff all wore masks, a new onsite requirement to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Most of the food bank’s partners are still distributing food, although hours or days may be limited. An updated list of food pantries is on the food bank’s website.
Hamilton said volunteers and donors are stepping up as more people in need seek sources of emergency food.
“We’re very grateful for that,” he said. “The show of support has been inspiring in many ways.”
Many of the people who drove to the food bank Tuesday were picking up boxes for friends and neighbors who couldn’t leave their houses.
“Our community just always steps up in times of need, whether that’s normal times of need or unprecedented times,” said Jessica Lightheart, spokeswoman for Share.
The homeless service provider has seen people and businesses donate sliced bread, crackers, snacks and other foods needed to put together sack meals or food boxes for its various programs. They’re a welcome gift for the nonprofit, which had to delay its fundraising gala that was supposed to happen later this month.
In the past, volunteers would have comprised the bulk of people organizing and distributing meals and food boxes, but many of Share’s volunteers are retirees who are advised to stay home. So, staff are filling in the increased demand for food assistance.
“The number of people accessing meals has almost tripled,” Lightheart said.
The nonprofit still needs volunteers to help provide services, but Lightheart acknowledged that now is a difficult time to recruit new volunteers.
One positive that’s come out of the pandemic is all of the families who lived at Share’s homeless shelter in Hazel Dell, which is owned by Vancouver Housing Authority, were moved into permanent housing. Share set up an Amazon wish list to help families supply their new homes.
Meals on Wheels People
Meals on Wheels People is seeing a jump in demand for food for home-bound seniors. Previously, 300 people would sign up for services in a given month; now, 75 to 100 people are signing up for services each day.
The nonprofit is welcoming donations of money and large food donations. Reser’s Fine Foods, for instance, donated 3,200 pounds of mangoes and See’s Candies gave them six pallets of chocolate candy.
“The community has been amazing because I think they realize what we’re doing really is almost life-and-death,” said Julie Piper-Finley, with Meals on Wheels People.
The organization’s central kitchen in Portland went from producing 5,000 meals a day to 8,000. Some employees were shifted to address production needs.
The nonprofit is delivering meals once weekly and having people call clients five times weekly for wellness checks to make sure they feel OK, are able to heat the frozen meals and to see if they need anything, such as medicine or more food.
“We’re really trying to limit the exposure of people to one another,” Piper-Finley said.
While other nonprofits have seen significant drops in volunteers, Meals on Wheels People has experienced a surge in interest. With its driving routes covered, the nonprofit hopes some people will volunteer for its new Friendly Chat program where volunteers call lonely seniors.
Not knowing what happens next is the biggest challenge for organizations like Meals on Wheels People, Piper-Finley said.
“This thing has really changed life as we know it,” she said.
Humane Society for Southwest Washington
The Humane Society for Southwest Washington stopped doing adoptions, closed its retail store and canceled its annual walk/run — all sources of income for the nonprofit. The walk/run was resurrected as an online fundraiser for the animal shelter.
Denise Barr, vice president of marketing, said she’s more worried about people than animals these days.
“The animals get top-notch care. Don’t worry about that,” she said.
A limited number of staff and volunteers come to the shelter every day to clean and do enrichment activities with the animals. The animal shelter also had an abundance of people offering to foster animals, more than it could place.
Meanwhile, some shelter staff were put on standby unemployment. Others are working halftime and receiving unemployment for the other half. The development department is writing applications for emergency grants and appealing to donors. Administrative staff are working remotely.
“It’s challenging,” Barr said.
The Humane Society is focused on staying afloat while still carrying out its mission, she said.
The Salvation Army
Steve Rusk of The Salvation Army in Vancouver said staff have shifted roles to adjust to the new normal and take on tasks that volunteers used to do.
It’s an uncomfortable and tiring situation for staff who still carry out essential services, namely doing curbside food box pickups for people in need at its Northeast 112th Avenue campus.
“You don’t know what you’re being exposed to whenever you walk out to any car,” Rusk said.
The average number of boxes climbs a bit each week, he said. The Salvation Army is also getting more calls about its rent and utility assistance programs.
“We’re open for business and we will be. We’ll do what we can as much as we can,” Rusk said. “It’s going to take community-wide support to meet the increased need.”
He doesn’t doubt that as more people lose wages, The Salvation Army will see more requests for help. The Salvation Army seeks monetary donations to cover the purchase of prepackaged foods, sanitizing chemicals, gloves, and to help more people pay rent, utilities and transportation costs.