How Healdsburg is helping its most vulnerable residents during the pandemic
When disaster strikes, Healdsburg residents respond, and individuals, groups and businesses once again sprang into action when Sonoma County and then the state ordered all residents to stay at home to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
From departments within the city of Healdsburg government to individuals using social media, particularly the site Nextdoor, and including Healdsburg businesses like Costeaux Bakery and the Healdsburg Running Co., offers of help and neighbors checking on neighbors began.
Healdsburg issued a “COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Older Adult and Senior Services Assistance Plan” on March 20. Mark Themig, who is wearing a number of hats, sitting on the Parks and Recreation and Senior Services advisory commissions as well as being the director of community services, credits his team with getting assistance for seniors in place as quickly as possible.
The first thing the community services team did was institute a Care Calls program to assist Senior Center members, riders of the DASH car-ride program and other individuals.
The program is designed to check in and ask their general status, medical and nutrition needs, whether they have an isolation plan, an emergency contact and anything else they’d like to share. They had identified more than 500 members of the community to contact. The calls will be ongoing throughout the period of instability.
In conjunction with the Redwood Empire Food Bank, they are preparing senior food baskets, named Groceries to Go.
The baskets contain meats, vegetables and canned goods. Deliveries are being made by city staff. In addition, they are working with the Council on Aging, which is converting its daily meal service to a five-day frozen meal pack delivery to seniors.
The DASH program includes careful screening of riders, providing only essential rides, and instead of the usual volunteers, city staff are driving. DASH vehicles are being used to deliver food and other essential supplies.
And the city of Healdsburg is restoring the Neighbors Network, founded by Healdsburg activist and retired attorney Gail Jonas. After breaking her leg in 2011, she was helped by the Healdsburg Peace Project members, and she realized that others could use the help.
So, by 2014, she had set up the Neighbors Network, which provided services.
Now, the city is happy to pick it back up to facilitate neighbors helping neighbors. Examples of services being considered are shopping and errands, pet care assistance, minor home maintenance, social interaction and referrals to other services.
Jonas, 80, is a tireless community and climate activist, and homeless advocate. Her interest in the unsheltered community was spurred on by her grandchildren, Rody and Sophia Jonas, who are now in the eighth grade. When they were in the third grade, Rich Cafferata, Homeless Outreach Coordinator with Reach for Home, spoke at their school. It made an impression on Rody in particular and Gail Jonas, as one of her grandchildren’s caregivers, got involved as well.
Since January 2017, she has been working to get a temporary legal encampment until housing can be provided, while Rody and Sophia both helped raise money for the Reach for Home van.
Jonas has been visiting the unsheltered community on a daily basis since last year and has gotten to know members of the community personally. She has created a resource guide and is working to supply more information.
She offers kudos to Themig for taking action to get sanitary facilities out to strategic areas, along with hand sanitizer.
“Mark is one of our most spectacular department heads,” said Jonas. “When things come to his attention, he takes action.”
Early on, Will Seppi, owner of Costeaux French Bakery, delivered food to Healdsburg District Hospital staffers, and received a public thank you on Nextdoor from the Healdsburg Running Co. HRC owner Skip Brand teamed up with Costeaux to run meals up to the hospital, in the most literal sense. Runners carried salads and other prepared food to the staff of the hospital.
From March 21 through March 23, Seppi worked in partnership with the city of Healdsburg and Reach for Home to prepare about 300 breakfasts and lunches for the homeless population.
“Sadly, we closed our doors last Tuesday, laid off most of the staff, hopeful that things will be back and operating again,” Seppi said in a phone interview.
He noted that things are substantially different now than in the recent past. Between fires, flooding, the cost of housing and now a pandemic, hospitality is faced with challenges.
“We’re going to have to be smarter with how we operate. We moved faster to mitigate our losses and to get food to the community (than after the Kincade fire),” he said.
Now, Seppi is reaching out to the schools for opportunities to offer meals to kids, as it’s “critical to make sure that kids are nourished and make it through.”
While a number of people offered to help community members who needed shopping on the NextDoor social media website, people often seemed not to connect.
One of the first to volunteer, Sargam Griffin, offered her phone number when responding to those who asked for help. Unfortunately, they didn’t return her calls.
“I don’t think it’s at a point right now that they need help,” said Griffin, though she noted that may change as time goes on. Griffin is a COPE leader for her rural area. COPE stands for Citizens Organize to Prepare for Emergency, and the neighbors involved exchange contact information and help each other. The group was well prepared to deal with the evacuation order that came with the Kincade fire.
Griffin, 58, is an artist who originally came from Germany. She’s in frequent contact with her parents, who are still there, as well as with her nephew, who lives in New York. She mentioned that the tendency to hoard is rampant in Germany, as it is here, though they are hoarding flour, not toilet paper. Hoarding flour is a remnant of the shortages during World War II. If one had flour, one had bread and could feed their family.
For now, Griffin says, she’ll continue to reach out, letting people know she’s available to help, and staying connected to others, both through her COPE group and through NextDoor.