“It’s remarkable to see how good people can be.”

That’s how Sue Hilberg, senior services manager for the City of Bonney Lake, described the generosity of people volunteering to help local seniors during the COVID-19 outbreak, which has many elderly people rightfully reluctant to venture into the community.

Vehicles line up for to-go lunches and other items Wednesday at the Bonney Lake Senior Center. Photo courtesy of Sue Hilberg.

The Bonney Lake Senior Center is closed, but it continues to make hearty lunches five days a week for local seniors who call ahead to pick up or have meals delivered, and it’s also providing free household items — including toilet paper, toothpaste, canned goods, and disinfecting wipes — donated by local people and businesses. Seniors can receive their meals and supplies without leaving their vehicle, or volunteers will deliver them to their homes.

“We’ve had an enormous outpouring of support from the community,” said Hilberg, who runs the city’s Senior Center, which was making about 40 meatloaf lunches Wednesday.

That’s a story playing out in myriad ways across the South Sound as nonprofits, businesses, and the general public step up to help their neighbors in need or those on the front lines of protecting the public health. It’s also playing out in people connecting people to services and information through social media, websites, and telephone.

Hilberg gave a shout-out to Girl Scouts Troop 40519 in Bonney Lake for using its contacts to help spur donations of food and hygiene products to the senior center.

“They spearheaded the donation movement, so to speak,” she said.

Meals for first responders

Crisp Greens restaurant in Tacoma on Tuesday delivered 40 meals to the MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital Emergency Room, launching a daily program to deliver free daily meals to first responders and medical staff. The meals are paid for by donations from customers and others who, for $21, can buy three Crisp Greens meals for delivery, a discount from the $10 per meal it normally charges. The program is helping feed first responders and medical staff while keeping Crisp Greens staff employed, said Corie Cameron, chef-owner of the restaurant that also remains open for take-out.

Photo courtesy Crisp Greens via Facebook.

On Tuesday, the program’s first day, Cameron said she had received enough donations for 276 free meals for first responders and medical staff. Crisp Greens’ Facebook page updated that number to 366 on Wednesday, when it delivered 54 salads and meals to two local hospitals.

Crisp Greens, with its daily menu changes, has a list of places it plans to deliver donated meals over coming days and weeks, including to fire and police stations, other hospitals, and Mary Bridge. As long as the donations keep coming in, the meals will keep going out.

“We will keep cooking and delivering as long as you guys are supporting it,” the Facebook page said. “Everyone is working together to accomplish something amazing.”

Inspiration for the idea?

“A customer called and asked me if she could donate meals to the doctors and nurses, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it, so I created a button within our inventory system for three meals for $21,” Cameron said. “Once I shared it on Facebook, everybody’s looking for a way to support small businesses like us as well as give back to the first responders and medical staff,” and the idea took off.

Breakfast for kids normally fed at school

Kwabi Amoah-Forson, who operates The Peace Bus in Tacoma, had to change gears when the coronavirus derailed plans for the public to convene for the premiere of its TV show for kids to teach about subjects like poverty, hunger, homelessness, and helping the environment — all with the goal of creating a better and safer future. Seeking another way to help the community, Amoah-Forson decided to help get food in the hands of Tacoma-area students whose families may be unable to pick up school meals being prepared for students while school is out, or to visit bus stops where food is being delivered. His idea: Deliver cereal.

Photo courtesy The Peace Bus via Facebook

“I’m trying to inform people that there are people here who live next to them, their neighbors, who are suffering,” he said. “The people who we’re delivering cereal to are those whose families rely on the schools so that their kids can have breakfast and lunch for their family, for their little ones.”

He started the Peace Bus Breakfast Fund and he’s delivering cereal to families who text him at 253.204.7227. A GoFundMe page is set up for donations to purchase the cereal that he delivers door to door in the morning. He’s also receiving donations from people he meets who see the bus and want to help.

“I’m getting cereal to these kids so they can have breakfast,” Amoah-Forson said, estimating he delivered to about 30 families the first two days this week, and his list keeps growing. The need is clear, he said.

“It’s simple to me,” he said. “Kids need breakfast. Some kids aren’t able to get breakfast at this point in time… I feel that it’s a vital part of peace is people having their essential needs met. So just doing what I can.”

Answering the call: day camps and more

The Tacoma Urban League is seeing an uptick in need during the COVID-19 outbreak and is responding quickly and adjusting its model where necessary to help, said T’wina Nobles, president and CEO of the organization whose mission is to assist African Americans and other underserved urban residents in the achievement of social equality and economic independence.

For example, it’s providing staff and volunteers from its Male Involvement Program (MIP), in which students receive mentoring from men of color to help provide a safe and supportive community for boys of color, to a program that will offer free day camps for children of medical staff and first responders. The program involves special kid camps set up at local schools and organized by Tacoma Public Schools and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF). The camps meet all public health regulations for COVID-19, but they are not traditional day-care centers.

Fahren Johnson, GTCF senior program officer for expanded learning opportunities at GTCF, said, “When the call from Tacoma Public Schools came to local community partners and providers to help support our health professionals and first responders, I honestly was not surprised to see youth-serving organizations show up, ready to lean in. We wanted to ensure that we support the whole child, regardless of who that child is and where they are coming from.”

Within two weeks, an entire infrastructure was established — from a registration portal to passionate staff ready to create an atmosphere and environment for school-age youth to plug into, Johnson said.

“When we work together, in and out of the school space, all young people benefit,” she said. “It has been an absolute honor to be a part of this collaborative work, and to see partnerships that set aside ‘I’ and ‘me’ to serve the ‘we.’ ”

Kid camps also have been set up at Puyallup schools, but that was organized separately from the Tacoma sites, GTCF said.

Tacoma Urban League, meanwhile, also is shifting MIP mentoring online, transitioning the service that usually occurs at the now-closed schools.

This week, the Urban League, working with Graduate Tacoma, is planning to launch a new website, TacomaLearns.org, as a COVID-19 resource for youth and families. The site will offer information on topics that include where to get meals, where to plug in to online activities, and other helpful information, Nobles said.

“I really love the work we do with our Urban League because we do respond in crisis,” Nobles said of helping where it can and providing resources.

For example, while it’s not a food pantry, it’s helped some people with purchasing groceries and other supplies who have expressed needs to their Urban League mentors and others. Urban League staff have even delivered the supplies when necessary. It also has provided Lyft gift cards to people needing transportation to work.

“I tell people if we don’t have a program or a service and you walk in our doors and you need help with something, we’ll figure it out,” Nobles said. “We’ll find someone. Our job is to know our communities and know the resources and to really be able to help our community with solutions. So we work really hard together to do that.”

Added Nobles, “When crisis calls for it, then we need to change our model and be responsive — and I’m super proud of our staff for doing that.”

Information links

Other sources of COVID-19 information include the city of Tacoma, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, and United Way of Pierce County, to name but a few.

GTCF and United Way also have teamed up on a COVID-19 Emergency Response fund, Pierce County Connected,  to support organizations providing services to address urgent needs and the disruption of basic human services due to COVID-19.