Residents step up to help at-risk community members

Community organization gathers funds for people who may not qualify for unemployment benefits


RYAN PUGH | The Daily Evergreen

Eric Fejeran, United Way of Whitman County director, Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse expressed a need for toilet paper and computer webcams so their employees could work from home.

MADYSEN MCLAIN, Evergreen roots editor

As developments with COVID-19 continue across the country, community organizations in Whitman County are stepping up to provide services for those in at-risk populations.

Eric Fejeran, United Way of Whitman County director, said the United Way of Whitman County launched a COVID-19 Community Relief and Recovery Fund. It will channel funds from FEMA and donations to other nonprofits who provide food and other supplies to those who need it the most.

The fund became public on March 26, and as of March 28, community members have donated $150, he said. To match community donations, the United Way of Whitman County will donate $5,000 to the fund.

“Pullman and Whitman County are pretty unique because of the transient population,” Fejeran said. “We also have a lot of hourly workers who during this time are unemployed.”

He said those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 circumstances and do not qualify for unemployment benefits might not be able to make rent. The fund could help them.

The United Way of Whitman County also created a Facebook page to discuss community needs, which has almost 200 members now.

Fejeran said Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse expressed a need for toilet paper and computer webcams so their employees could work from home. 

Someone on Facebook was able to donate webcams within about an hour of the post being up. Donations for toilet paper were also coming in within hours.

Pullman Regional Hospital also expressed they needed more manufactured face masks, so the group members are in the process of obtaining those masks, he said. 

The hospital is encouraging community members to make homemade face masks for their employees, according to the Facebook page.

“I had an opportunity to talk to most of our funding agencies,” Fejeran said. “A lot of folks are worried about being able to operate unless they receive some form of help.”

The United Way national organization also created a similar COVID-19 fund. People anywhere in the U.S. can dial 2-1-1 to speak to someone from United Way to connect them to a representative for help with emergency needs. 

Fejeran said in Washington state the 2-1-1 service has an increased call rate of about 17 percent.

“Local nonprofits are going to get hurt in my opinion, so please donate to your local nonprofit because they really do need that financial assistance,” Fejeran said.

The funds could go to some food pantries in the county that are experiencing shortages or programs like the senior meal sites. 

The Council on Aging and Human Services in Whitman County are considered essential operations and will continue to provide senior meals, access to food pantries and COAST Transportation.

Sarah Kane, Council on Aging manager of nutrition, said the senior meals provided throughout the county are now pickup or delivery only. 

  • Pullman Senior Center: Tuesdays and Fridays at 11:45 a.m.
  • Palouse Community Building: Wednesdays at noon
  • LaCrosse Cafe: Tuesdays at noon
  • Colfax Food Pantry: Mondays and Thursdays at noon
  • Endicott Food Center: Second and fourth Tuesdays at noon

A $4.25 donation is encouraged for meals but is not required, Kane said.

The first day operating on to-go and delivery only, numbers were down, but the rest of the week even more people than usual requested meals, she said.

The council is now serving people that are usually not served because they can reach those who cannot leave their homes, Kane said.

“I anticipate our numbers are actually going to go up as this continues because more and more people are going to find out about our services or need our services because they run out of food,” she said.

A person contacted Kane about an elderly couple, she said. The husband is fighting cancer, but the person made it clear that he would not accept handouts. 

“The longer this continues, the harder it’s going to be … “

Sarah Kane, COAST manager of nutrition

The wife wanted a break from cooking three meals a day, so the Council on Aging decided to provide some help, Kane said.

“They said just try it once and see how receptive he is. If he’s very angry about it then don’t try again,” she said.

The lead cook stopped by their house, gave them a meal and visited with them. Kane said they were receptive to the service and it alleviated some of their stress.

The council surveyed their senior meal patrons and found that 90 percent of them said the meal itself is not important, but they come for socialization, Kane said.

“The longer this continues, the harder it’s going to be on these people that are used to getting out a couple of days a week and seeing their peers and friends,” she said. “Now they don’t have that option.”

Amie Anderson, COAST transportation coordinator, said those with essential needs can request a ride, including appointments for dialysis, cancer treatments and occasionally grocery store trips.

There has been a decrease in people using COAST. She said typically 10 people use the service daily.

Volunteers operate the COAST vans, alongside paid drivers who drive the wheelchair accessible van. Anderson said COAST is not looking for new volunteers at the moment. 

Those interested in having a meal delivered can call 509-397-4305 or if a ride is needed call COAST at 509-397-2935.

“If somebody needs to have a meal delivered, there’s always an option, no matter what community they’re in that we can find somebody to deliver for them,” Kane said.