When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it brought hardship to many Lewis County residents. Local nonprofits and other organizations rose to the challenge, but rapidly expanding need created previously unprecedented dilemmas.

Lewis County Community Services Coalition
Through the initial efforts of Lewis County Seniors, United Way and Twin Transit to prepare, distribute and feed seniors, the Lewis County Community Services Coalition was born. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Community Services Coalition

One of the first? How to continue feeding local seniors when it was no longer safe to attend in-person meals at local senior centers.

Lewis County Seniors created an innovative solution to this problem by joining forces with Twin Transit and United Way. Together, these three organizations created a senior meal delivery program. It was a simple, but effective model. Lewis County Seniors made the meals, Twin Transit delivered them, and United Way helped fundraise and recruit volunteers.

The partnership was a huge success – and it was just the beginning.

Inspired by the success of this initial partnership, the Lewis County Community Services Coalition was born. In a matter of months, its list of collaborative partners grew to include Bethel Church, Hub City Mission, Lewis County Health and Social Services, Rural Senior Health Solutions, Cascade Community Healthcare, Gather Church, Salvation Army, Visiting Nurses, Catholic Community Services, Lewis County Mask Makers, Lewis County Veterans and KACS Radio.

These organizations use collaboration to better serve our community.

Lewis County Community Services Coalition
The Lewis County Community Services Coalition are collectively building a more stable and prosperous future, with faith in the unrelenting human spirit and our capacity to overcome, now and after these uncertain times. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Community Services Coalition

Each organization brings their unique mission, skills, expertise, and community connections to the table. Organizational leaders have seen improved efficacy from working together. “It has been an honor to work with people like Twin Transit Director Joe Clark and Lewis County Seniors Executive Director Glenda Forga, who are two strong leaders,” said United Way Executive Director Debbie Campbell. “When strong leaders are a part of a team, there is trust. These empowered individuals and their staff made a huge difference in the lives of many in our community.”

The Lewis County Community Services Coalition collaborates to forward social equity, reduce poverty, and improve life in Lewis County. Group collaboration and support helped each organization adjust to the post-COVID landscape and quickly serve the needs of the community in a new and expanded way.

For Gather Church, the onset of COVID-19 meant changing their market-style food bank into a food box delivery program. As community need grew, the amount of food they give out grew from about 4,000 pounds to over 15,000 pounds each week.

Lewis County Community Services Coalition
The organizations involved in Lewis County Community Services Coalition reorganized and adjusted together quickly to serve the needs of the community. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Community Services Coalition

This increase created a need for a larger refrigerator and freezer space.

Lewis County Seniors had faced a similar issue, as the need for senior meals rapidly increased. The Chehalis School District volunteered the kitchen and refrigerator space at one of its unused school buildings to help. When the senior meal program outgrew this space as well, Sorenson Transport Co. lent a freezer truck to fill in the gap. Lewis County Seniors connected with Gather through the LCCSC and shared these resources to better meet both organizations’ needs.

“What I most appreciate about the coalition is that it’s a group of agencies coming together, behind the scenes so to speak, to meet the needs of the people of Lewis County,” says Patty Howard, associate pastor at Gather Church. “This effort was begun by a few people in different agencies. Now it has expanded to include many more of us, all focused on caring for people. Each agency does what it does best and, as we see a need that is outside of what we do, we share with the other agencies to see who can best meet that need.”

When the pandemic first reached Lewis County, Rural Senior Health Solutions began getting calls from medically fragile individuals who were too young to qualify for the senior meal program. Through the LCCSC, they were able to assist and connect these individuals with food and services.

“This was an absolute lifeline for these people,” said Zora DeGrandpre of RSHS. “It obviously helped them with food and commodities, but it also relieved the stress they were feeling and helped to allay some of their fears, especially during those early weeks.

Lewis County Community Services Coalition
Taking care of the most vulnerable was the first mission of LCCSC. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Community Services Coalition

“LCCSC is focused on solutions, as I am, and is extraordinarily flexible in how those solutions are achieved,” says DeGrandpre. “We are a diverse group with diverse backgrounds but we are all concerned that the citizens of Lewis County get the help they need when they need it.”

The community also reached out to volunteer their assistance. One person made masks for all the residents of an assisted living center. Others have volunteered to deliver meals or sanitize coolers. And several local seniors are working with the LCCSC to develop a calling tree to check in on each other. Calling to connect with friends and neighbors, DeGrandpre said, is one of the best things anyone can do. “It is often the little things that help the most,” she said.

The LCCSC meets virtually twice per week to address the changing needs of the community. In addition to senior meal distribution, they have organized an effort to keep seniors engaged at home with a community drive for crosswords, puzzles and at-home activities. The group has also made and distributed informational materials on COVID safety, mental health, and other key issues, in addition to supporting the local behavioral health hotline.

Lewis County Community Services Coalition
The strengthening of the community continues with regular meetings of the coalition to address the changing needs in the community. Photo courtesy: Lewis County Community Services Coalition

The LCCSC’s collaborative model caught the attention of state representatives, who reached out to learn more. The LCCSC is now working with these representatives to replicate the model throughout Washington State.

By combining the skills and resources of diverse entities, the Lewis County Community Services Coalition is making a positive impact in Lewis County. They are collectively building a more stable and prosperous future while strengthening our capacity to overcome. The group looks forward to continually serving the Lewis County community in this fashion – now and into the future.

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