A Community Response to COVID-19 

By Ken Karlberg

The COVID-19 pandemic is rocking our world. Restaurants and bars are shuttered, schools are closed, and our local service industries are suffering badly. The impact from the virus has spared no one.  

But the threat has not changed our community’s character. Rather, it has revealed us for who we are — an interconnected, diverse set of neighbors investing in neighbors, strangers investing in strangers, and a community investing in itself and its future. From the depths of despair come inspiring stories of sacrifice and selflessness. As a community, we should be proud.  

For those on the frontlines — our healthcare providers, police officers, firefighters, postal workers, government employees, and essential business owners who remain open for our benefit — we salute you. We celebrate you. Never in recent history have we asked you to do so much at such great risk. Your courage may never be fully repaid.  

PeaceHealth, your courage and sacrifice are newly personal with the sudden realization that any one of us could be in your hands at any time. Hopefully, our community’s appreciation is enough of a down payment for now.  

The call to action is being answered by countless others. Scores of selfless residents and businesses in Whatcom County are helping make proverbial stone soup, each contributing what they can to the greater good, particularly to protect the most vulnerable. Those who are able to help are going above and beyond. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, start with the generosity of local businesses. Countless restaurants, shops, and organizations have answered the call to help those putting their lives at risk to save others.  

Take Vitality Bowls, a local superfood cafe in the Barkley area. In a crisis, time is critical and food is often an afterthought for those busy on the frontlines. Thanks to Amanda White and her team, however, Vitality Bowls stepped up to provide more than 600 smoothies to Whatcom Transit Authority employees, the overworked housekeeping staff at PeaceHealth, and countless others. Thanks to the generosity of Jeff Savage with Country Financial Insurance, Vitality Bowls served an additional 317 açai bowl meals to healthcare providers and first responders. No doubt, a much appreciated and unexpected “yum.” 

Meanwhile, Scotty Browns provided a sterling example of businesses helping businesses help others with its fundraising drive. Scotty Browns matched donations from VSH CPAs, Caliber Home Loans, and others, delivering more than 400 meals to the Bellingham Police Department and PeaceHealth Hospital.   

Many restaurants and bars stepped up on a smaller but equally important scale by supporting their local communities with take-out options and special accommodations for seniors. Magdalena’s Bistro and Creperie in Fairhaven is but one of many examples. In addition to offering a twice-weekly take-out service for her famous gastronomy creations, Magdalena and her family are also hand-delivering meals to their most vulnerable patrons.  

Others, like reluctant local hero Sandy Heinrich, organized community help with the Facebook group “Whatcom County Covid-19 Community Helpers.” The Facebook group was Heinrich’s solution to the hurdles many are facing due to the shelter-in-place order. The idea started small, but now there are thousands of members, a dedicated hotline at 360.778.2762, and translators in at least nine languages.  

Through Heinrich’s efforts and the efforts of those who quickly understood the need to create a neighbor-to-neighbor exchange, people are now taking care of one another as never before. Anyone with essential needs, such as groceries or prescriptions, can call or join their neighborhood’s Facebook page to request help. Similarly, anyone who is looking to help (free of charge), can visit the website to volunteer their time.   

The service caters to those who are physically unable to leave their homes or who are at high risk if they do. Heinrich says “hotline messages and Facebook postings are reviewed by a central staff and then neighborhood captains are notified, who match the requests with volunteer helpers.” While the organization is not yet formed as a nonprofit, it has partnered with Fellowship of Messengers, 360.389.6132, a faith-based nonprofit in Lynden, to solicit donations to purchase Safeway gift cards for those most in need. Heinrich encourages people to “please donate if you can. The need is there.” 

Still others, like Superfeet Worldwide and two local distilleries, Bellewood Acres and Chuckanut Bay Distillery, responded to the shortage of personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer.  

Superfeet quickly transformed its 3D custom footwear operations at its Ferndale manufacturing facility to make thousands of masks for area hospitals and first responders. John Rauvola, CEO and president at Superfeet, said in a news release: “You can feel the pride our team of employee-owners takes in being able to create something tangible to help combat this pandemic and better protect our community’s first line of defense.” 

For those in need of hand sanitizer, Bellewood Acres and Chuckanut Bay Distillery are producing sanitizer instead of spirits. In addition to providing sanitizer to the local jail, firefighters, and border patrol, Bellewood Acres also sells an affordable spray sanitizer to the public. Meanwhile, Chuckanut Bay suspended their operations to make sanitizer for first responders and anyone else in need. They also offered a free 50ML bottle along with any purchase of spirits.  

The acts of kindness are endless. Two anonymous Hampsters, who are frequent guests at Hotel Bellwether, pledged a combined $42,000 to help cover the wages of the hotel’s staff through two pay periods. The couple, along with general manager Jim Haupt, hope “this gesture of generosity will spread throughout the community. . .” 

The public sector deserves equal praise. We owe a debt of gratitude to Lighthouse Mission Ministries, the Bellingham School District, and our local government for forming a critical partnership in this crisis to address the needs of those experiencing homelessness. The Drop-in Center at the Lighthouse Mission’s facilities on Holly Street did not meet social distancing recommendations by the CDC or the Whatcom County Health DepartmentBellingham High School now serves as the new temporary Drop-in Center, where people experiencing homelessness can receive meals and safely shelter-in-place.   

All of us have cause to be proud of our private and public sectors for their many actions of charity and commitment to civic duty. If Bellingham is the city of “subdued excitement,” Whatcom County is the county of unsubdued kindness. We are coming together when coming together matters.