When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jenny Collins Executive Director with Visiting Nurses Foundation knew immediately the organization needed to shift gears quickly to serve Lewis County’s most vulnerable population. With the mission to create funding for education and assistance of Home Health and Hospice patients and their families, Visiting Nurses knew they needed to do something and meet that need.
Collins closed the thrift stores on March 16 before other businesses were shutting down. “We became concerned about the employees and shoppers who were in the high-risk groups,” she says. “I just saw that we needed to step back. We had a meeting that morning, closed the stores and sent about 80 percent of the people home with pay for the rest of the week.”
With the thrift stores closed, Collins and her team asked themselves how they could find the segment of the population that is immune-compromised, medically fragile or hospice home health patients and how to help them in these uncertain times. They quickly started delivering meals, emergency groceries as well as medical supplies to those unable to get out themselves.
The very select group is one that often can’t cook for themselves, are homebound and can’t get outside their doorstep. “They are a special segment of the population that no one can help right now,” says Collins. “It’s a really big void and there are some really heart-wrenching situations where people are not able to walk outside or they don’t have a family member to drop off food.”
Initially, Visiting Nurses was delivering meals to up to 100 people five days a week. After Lewis County Seniors were able to mobilize meal deliveries to those in isolation over the age of 60, that number is now down to around 45 per day. “We are a complement to what the senior centers are doing,” says Collins. “But we are also able to help people under 60 who are medically fragile and immune-compromised.”
Utilizing a number of volunteers each weekday, they are distributing food and supplies to all parts of the county, including the east end. “We’ve really seen people in the outlying portions of our county taking the hardest hits as they already have limited access to resources,” says Collins.
After hearing about a couple in the east part of the county, one being on hospice and down to two days of food supplies, Visiting Nurses was able to make a delivery of groceries that same day along with lunches.
Beyond meals, Visiting Nurses is also providing various extra resources such as durable medical equipment like walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, knee scooters, commodes, bath and shower benches and more, even including incontinence supplies.
“People have been very thankful. We receive phone calls and letters all the time and it’s just wonderful,” says Collins. “There are tears and thanks and the underlying thing I keep hearing is ‘I didn’t know people cared so much.’ It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking.”
One woman from outside of the Twin Cities called and said she wheeled over to the local store three times only to not find toilet paper each time, so Visiting Nurses brought some of their own out to her. “People are running out of toilet paper because people are hoarding it,” says Collins. “Fortunately, because we closed both locations, we had a few cases and another sent over so we’ve been taking toilet paper to people. For those people who are hoarding toilet paper, it’s really hurting this group that can’t get out of their houses but once a month.”
Visiting Nurses in conjunction with other local organizations like Twin Transit, United Way of Lewis County, Valley View Health Center, Area Agency on Aging and Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce are all working together to help the segments of the population they serve.
“This community has mobilized faster than any community in our area,” says Collins. “It’s unreal that we have figured out how to take care of every segment of our population in a very small amount of time. I am so proud of our community right now.”
Visiting Nurses also partnered with Dawn’s Delectables and Joy’s Once Upon a Thyme. “They are making nutritiously dense meals at a deep discount,” says Collins. “It’s awesome because we can provide a wonderful meal for about $8. That partnership is very important because we are not a food service organization. We are just working to help these people get through.”
While the thrift stores are closed and can only accept medically essential supplies to get back out to the community, Collins encourages people to hang on to their donations while spring cleaning to donate later. She also invites shoppers to come to visit the thrift stores when they are able to open again. “If it weren’t for the thrift stores and the staff, we wouldn’t have the resources to provide these supplies and meals,” says Collins. “We literally couldn’t do it.”
“We are all in this together,” says Collins. “If we continue to be kind to each other and understanding of people’s situations without judgment and just help our neighbors and community, we will come out stronger in the end. We have shown that in the past, during floods and economic downturns. This is just an opportunity for us to get stronger as a community. I see it; it’s already happening.”
Support Visiting Nurses during this unprecedented time in serving the most fragile in Lewis County. They are accepting monetary donations on their website, or by mail to 222 S. Pearl St. Centralia, WA 98531 and by phone at 360-623-1560.