Nothing brings people together like the stress of a disaster or crisis, some argue. In Spokane, it appears that the theory holds true. Local businesses and individual residents have rallied together to help ensure that their neighbors make it through the COVID-19 pandemic. Call it Spokane's own antibodies.
The efforts range from the small scale, like the residents who are picking up and delivering groceries for immunocompromised households, to larger initiatives, like local grocery stores operating shopping hours exclusively for seniors and other people who are vulnerable.
For some, rolling up their sleeves and getting involved helps them deal with their own stress about the pandemic and the havoc that it is wreaking on people's lives.
"For me to handle my own anxieties and the fear, the best thing I can do is to help," says Ileia Carolyn Perry, a 37-year-old client relations executive at a litigation support company. "If you give people a task, they feel more productive and united and part of the community and I think it helps dispel some of the fears and anxieties that we might be feeling."
On March 12, Perry founded Helping Spokane County Get Through COVID-19, a Facebook group for individuals seeking or offering assistance related to the pandemic. In it, people post information about the latest government-ordered social distancing measures, what stores still have certain products in their inventory, and times for Facebook live story hours for kids.
And so far it's been a smashing success, Perry says, garnering over 6,500 members.
"It wouldn't be a successful group if people weren't willing to donate and share and be vulnerable and ask for assistance," she says. "I'm very surprised because I want everyone to treat everyone with kindness and courtesy and that was one of my biggest concerns that we would have lots of distractions from rude and political posts and everyone has kept it very kind and courteous and united."
Stephanie Moore, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom, has been using the Facebook group to run errands for people during the pandemic. She checks the discussion thread several times a day when she is heading out to see if she can help anyone either by grabbing stuff from her own pantry or buying it at a store. Recently, she's dropped off toilet paper and paper towels to a woman who couldn't leave her house because she's immunocompromised, baby wipes to the mother of a newborn baby, and food to a friend helping out a neighbor.
She also takes steps to keep goods as sanitized as possible before she delivers them to residents.
"If I get things from my pantry, I just wipe it down and put it in a bag," she says. "And then when I get stuff from the store, I do grocery delivery or pick up so I don't go in the store. And then I have hand sanitizer in my car.
"It made me feel a little better and have a little bit of control over what's going on," Moore adds.
Similarly, local businesses are stepping up. Dry Fly Distilling, for instance, is producing free hand sanitizer for high-risk facilities and personnel like nursing homes, first responders and clinics.
A number of local grocery stores, including Rosauers and Huckleberry's Natural Market, are offering special shopping hours exclusively for people vulnerable to COVID-19, like seniors, pregnant women, and people with disabilities and underlying medical issues.
"We had our first shopping day for seniors and at-risk populations this [past] Thursday and it was met with open arms by our seniors," says Jeff Phillips, president of Rosauers Supermarkets. "We had a waiting line of people at 7 o'clock to get in but it was very well organized and people were able to spread out.
"I think almost every location that we have had the same experience," he adds. "I think the rest of the community will respect that seniors and those who are compromised need that time and space to shop safely for their needs."
Both Rosauers and Huckleberry's are holding their special shopping times from 7-9 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Additionally, about a week ago, State Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) began to work with local donors, nonprofits and businesses to create Spokane Food Fighters, an emergency meal delivery service intended to serve those who are now jobless as a result of business closures.
"We know a whole bunch of people are going to be food insecure over the next couple of days from being laid off, being less mobile," he says. "So this is something that we thought we could do to provide emergency meals."
Maurer Law, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund and Spokane Teachers Credit Union are among some of the donors to the initiative, and partner restaurants like No-Li Brewhouse have helped to provide the meals. Riccelli estimated that 79 meals were delivered on Monday.
"Our capacity is really going to be based on the funding stream that continues to go in," he says. "I'm confident that we can raise the money but also the volunteer capacity."
Royal Upholstery & Distributing is also gearing up to potentially supply masks to the Spokane Fire Department personnel. Krista Featherstone, owner of Royal Upholstery, says that they were approached by the fire department about making masks for them.
"We were approached by the Spokane Fire Department about our ability to make masks and were asked to come up with a prototype and we did," Featherstone says. "They are desperately searching for a backup plan for when the real masks run out."
Their mask prototype wasn't made to any medical specifications, but first responders are looking for "any sort of vapor barrier," Featherstone says. The shop has stockpiled materials if they need to make the masks in quantity.
"We're not looking to make money," she adds. "We're just looking to help the community and keep our guys employed." ♦