Even when the coronavirus pandemic gave us a brief few months of reprieve earlier this summer, the work didn't slow down for the Spokane Quaranteam and its founder, Rick Clark.
The grassroots, social media-based philanthropic group took shape during the first major lockdown back in March 2020, when Clark logged on to Facebook Live one night to see if he could raise $200 to purchase 20 pizzas from local chain Pizza Rita. Clark wanted to support the restaurant — like all other restaurants, it had just been ordered to close in-person dining — and in turn feed the clients of a local nonprofit, in this instance Volunteers of America's Hope House women's shelter.
In the year and a half since, Spokane Quaranteam's numbers have exponentially increased, both in the total amount of donations it's received — including more than $250,000 raised to support local restaurants alone — and members of the community who've jumped on board to help. The Quaranteam's Facebook group, its main hub, currently has more than 32,500 members.
One of them is Alice McKeever, who became involved after being on the receiving end of one of the Quaranteam's projects last year that delivered doughnuts to residents in need of a pick-me-up who had been nominated by other members.
"Just watching the collective whole of 32,000-plus people that don't know each other come together and voluntarily save our city, that is nothing short of absolutely phenomenal," McKeever says.
McKeever isn't an admin for Spokane Quaranteam's Facebook group, but has become well-known by Clark and other members for frequently responding to questions and offering general encouragement. During one of Quaranteam's recent group "road trips" to Deer Park, McKeever, who lives nearby, helped guide members around the town to businesses that were the focus of the group's support.
Throughout this summer, these weekend road trips were a monthly event, inviting members to take a short drive to small towns in outlying areas around Spokane where local businesses have especially struggled throughout the pandemic.
"We just finished our sixth road trip to Rockford," Clark says. "We've spent anywhere from $14,000 to $30,000 total at businesses during each one, but it's hard to tell for sure because we include the entire town, not just one business there. We go out to help everyone."
So far, the Quaranteam has organized these one-day "cash mob"-style events in Newman Lake, Cheney, Medical Lake, Deer Park, Rockford and Spokane's Hillyard Business District.
Going forward, however, Clark says the trips won't be every month, because he doesn't want participants to burn out, and so that he can focus on other projects.
With the delta variant threatening more restrictions on being out in public, Clark says he's lately been considering re-launching regular Facebook Live donation-request streams, which were the Quaranteam's main focus throughout last year and into early 2021.
"It's been on my mind a lot with everything looking bad again," Clark says. "I think I want to do that again; raise money and buy food and give that to people who are food insecure. We will never have a problem finding people to eat that food, and there are still plenty of restaurants that need help."
How to Support Spokane Quaranteam
JOIN the public group on Facebook.com; search for "Spokane Quaranteam"
DONATE via Venmo and Cash App to @HelpSpokane, or via Paypal to email@example.com
One of the dozens of local restaurants and food providers that have benefited from an infusion of cash thanks to Clark's donation blitzes is the Supper Club in North Spokane.
Owner Martha Domitrovich says when Clark reached out to her late last year saying he wanted to purchase several hundred dollars worth of meals at full price to donate to folks in need, it enabled her to renew several licenses and permits about to expire, and which she needed to continue operating her business selling pre-made meals and meal kits.
"It covered all my permits and licenses for the year," Domitrovich says. "It took this huge expense that I was not sure how I was going to make work, and just took that off the plate completely."
Domitrovich has since donated additional resources through the Supper Club for other Quaranteam efforts, and says it's always easy for her to say "yes" when Clark reaches out, or she hears of his latest project. She recently gave a dozen $50 Supper Club gift cards to the nonprofit, which is collecting gift cards from local restaurants for Safety Net, a nonprofit that supports teens aging out of the foster system.
"With Rick and his wife [Virginia], I just give to them because I know it's going in the right direction," Domitrovich says.
Besides leading the Quaranteam online and organizing its small-town road trips, Clark's stayed plenty busy throughout the summer while spearheading many other initiatives.
He helped raise, along with the Greater Spokane Food Truck Association, more than $82,000 so that almost 250 food-insecure kids could enjoy free meals from local food trucks during their summer break.
During the region's historic heat wave in June, Clark and Quaranteam volunteers passed out hundreds of bottles of water to anyone in need of hydration, from the homeless to delivery truck drivers. Clark also purchased and collected donated fans and air conditioners to give to those without cooling in their homes. A few weeks back, volunteers walked around the city to hand out Spokane Transit bus passes to anyone who wanted one.
Spokane Quaranteam was recently contacted by staff at Spokane's Amazon warehouses, asking if they'd accept donated pallets filled with returned items, like art supplies and household goods, both to use for its own efforts and to distribute via partnerships with other nonprofits. Clark, of course, said yes, although later questioned where he'd store all that stuff.
"That is a huge thing for Spokane, and a huge thing for the nonprofit world," Clark says, "and showing that nonprofits working together is better than not working together."
All these efforts have taken place while Clark's also been running his central nonprofit, Giving Back Packs, a homelessness outreach endeavor, under which the Spokane Quaranteam operates.
"It's my job to bring positivity to the world. The world is a dark place sometimes, and I have to get a bunch of people around me to be like, 'OK, let's get our second wind,'" Clark says. "But we have a lot of people relying on us to be that positive force, I don't have time to sit around and be sad." ♦