Community organizations offer resources, support for locals
— Created April 1, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kacie Jo Voeller
As Washington continues to follow a stay-at-home order due to safety concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic, many are feeling the effects of a change in lifestyle and work. However, even as challenges from unemployment to temporary closures surface, community organizations are stepping up to provide aid to individuals, families, businesses and nonprofits. Organizations currently mobilizing to assist others include the Whidbey Community Foundation (WCF), Goosefoot, the Economic Development Council for Island County (EDCIC), chambers of commerce on the island, and more.
Nancy Conard, executive director of the WCF, said the fund, which began in 2016, is focused on supporting local nonprofits and providing assistance to community members.
“The same nonprofits we have been trying to support are the ones that provide a lot of the same services that people are going to be needing to have as a result of this pandemic,” she said.
Conard said food banks throughout the area have already seen an increase in demand, and predicts a number of organizations, from those assisting with medical bills to housing, may be needed as the pandemic continues.
“There are food banks on the north, central and south ends of the island and they all have already seen an increase in people looking for support and the longer that people are unemployed the more that is going to increase,” she said. “And so right away they are already in place to take care of that need and if we can just channel additional donations to them, they can handle the increase in clients.”
Conard said the spirit of the community makes it possible for WCF to assist a number of nonprofits on the island.
“All of those organizations, they are taking care of housing, they are taking care of food, they are taking care of medical bills, they all are run by nonprofits and just from the good heart of people in our community,” she said.
Sandra Whiting, executive director of the Goosefoot Community Fund, said the organization has canceled its community grants program for 2020 and is instead putting those funds into an emergency grants program intended to address the COVID-19 crisis.
“Goosefoot’s initial focus is on providing food security to the children, elderly and families in need in our community,” she said. ”Our initial research shows that Good Cheer and Island Senior Resources are experiencing a sharp increase in the need for assistance. They both rely on the income from their thrift stores, and these stores are now closed. Our first two emergency grants will go to these organizations.”
So far, the Good Cheer Food Bank has been awarded $25,000, with Island Senior Resources being given $20,000, Whiting said.
“Goosefoot’s mission has always been ‘to preserve great places, address community needs, grow local businesses, and connect neighbors,’ so we are putting ‘community needs’ out in front right now. Assisting nonprofits at this time is critical. Some have lost their main source of income, others have seen a huge increase in the need for services.”
Whiting said the unique situation presented gives Whidbey Island a chance to show kindness between neighbors.
“It is important to come together as a community at this time because we are living in a time of fear and uncertainty,” she said. “Knowing that our community is there to help can alleviate some of that fear. Even though so many have lost their jobs, knowing that there is food available for their families can reduce our anxiety level. The delivery of food and medicine to those unable to leave their homes because of illness or falling into a high-risk category is crucial.”
Whiting said the organization is thankful to be able to assist islanders at this time.
“Words can’t describe how grateful we are for the on-site staff at the Goose Community Grocer who are front line heroes, keeping us fed while facing increased workloads and concerned shoppers,” she said. “Goosefoot’s funding comes from the Goose Community Grocer’s profits, so these emergency grants are totally funded by our shoppers at the store.”
For businesses on Whidbey and Camano Islands seeking assistance, Sharon Sappington, the executive director of the EDCIC, said there are a number of resources.
“During this unprecedented and challenging time with the COVID-19 pandemic, the EDCIC vision of building and sustaining a healthy local economy through community, business, and workforce development remains the same, but our efforts have shifted to focusing on helping impacted businesses,” she shared.
“New resources and assistance programs are being rolled out frequently for which we continue to compile and update resource lists on our website,” she said.
Sappington said businesses are struggling with temporary loss of revenue, in addition to other challenges.
“We encourage companies and individuals that are able to reach out to a struggling business and ask how they might help; you might have expertise to share that could make all the difference to that business,” she said.
In the face of adversity, Sappington said many are coming up with new ways to serve the public and emphasized the importance of continuing to shop local.
“Island County has many creative thinkers and doers which is very valuable during these challenging times,” she said. “We are seeing this creative flare as businesses tackle the current hardship with thinking outside the box for alternative methods of making their products and services available as well as identifying methods to help produce critical products.”
Sappington said she feels it is vital for community members to stand together.
“Island County has always had a very tight knit and supportive social and business community,” she said. “At this critical time, that spirit must prevail in the community as we support our businesses and one another in every way possible, while at the same time, maintaining the recommended safety measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19.”
Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce, said there are a number of efforts to help local businesses.
“We will be sending out details for our members as to how they can apply for the grants and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans that are available,” she said. “Whidbey Community Foundation has micro-loans available and people are coming together to support the businesses on our island. This is what makes Whidbey Island so very special. We work together.”
Another resource for small businesses is the Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The legislation aims to provide assistance for payroll, utilities and other payments (www.bench.co/blog/operations/paycheck-protection-program/). Business owners should heck with their banks for information.
Eccles said connecting others with resources and finding ways to sustain business remains crucial as the community is affected.
“The chamber’s mission is supporting business, strengthening community, and we are dedicated to keeping this support going through this unprecedented time in our lives,” she said. “Small business is the lifeblood of our community.”