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June 3, 2020

4/8/2020 4:47:00 PM
Volunteers put out of work by virus crisis
Bill Reynolds

The COVID-19 pandemic that led to a statewide Stay Home order has been brutal on local business owners and employees alike.

It has also been tough on those who gladly work for free.

La Conner area volunteers who log hours for service clubs, charitable organizations and a host of community-based programs and projects have had to adapt in real time with daily life being shut down to stem spread of the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 has done a fine job of slowing down almost all volunteering,” lamented Town Parks Commissioner Ollie Iversen, also a La Conner Rotarian who in normal times is a regular behind the counter at the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center.

But these aren’t normal times.

The Friends of the Library closed its thrift store in mid-March and won’t re-open until it becomes safe for volunteers to return to work.

“How ironic,” mused Friends of the Library President Joan Scarboro, “that we had spent the first two months of the year assuring the public that we were still open and seeking donations and now to be putting up signs saying ‘closed, no donations, please.’”

That’s not all.

Friends of the Library has nixed its monthly meetings until more than 10 people can gather in one place, Scarboro said.

“When that happens,” she vowed, “we look forward to welcoming Jared Fair, the new Library Director, with a party.”

That could be awhile, however, longtime La Conner volunteer Peter Goldfarb acknowledged.

“The ‘Stay at Home’ quarantine is the only way to slow down this persistent virus. We are all vulnerable,” said Goldfarb, whose ties to the La Conner Chamber extend back a generation.

“As Cindy Verge at the Tulip Festival said,” Goldfarb added, “most of the volunteers she depends on are in their 70s and 80s, the very vulnerable ages, so (they) should not be exposed to the virus or flu.”

La Conner Sunrise Food Bank, which is officially and emotionally an essential business, has implemented enhanced public health safety measures during the virus outbreak – a period that has seen increased demand for its services.

The La Conner pantry, manned by volunteers, has launched a curbside pickup system to assure social distancing during food distribution.

Such practices are vital, said food bank director and La Conner Weekly News General Manager Michelle Havist.

“The reality is, at this time, we don’t know who’s a carrier of this virus,” Havist told food bank volunteers. “And if one of us contracts COVID-19, we will all probably have to isolate for 14 days, which means the food bank closes, too.”

Some volunteers, with Havist’s blessing, have opted to remain home during the virus crisis.

“Kitchen volunteers and everyone else who is staying home, we miss you terribly,” Havist said, “but we are all happy that you continue to stay home and stay well.”

The La Conner chapter of Soroptimist International has had to temporarily close its Vintage Store at Third and Morris and cancel the group’s annual awards banquet.

Award recipients have been sent their checks and certificates, though, and Soroptimist volunteers are monitoring the store to make sure items on the sales floor are safe and secure. Local Soroptimists have also remained in contact with La Conner Schools officials to help render aid to homeless students in the district.

“Even with our shop closed,” said Soroptimist Marnie Haworth, fondly known as the ‘Vintage extraordinaire,’ “our members have found ways to continue supporting our community.”

Iversen said the La Conner Rotary Club shifted to an on-line meeting to discuss its annual auction fundraiser in late August, which has yet to be cancelled or postponed. The club has already scuttled a popular spring fundraiser.

“Rotary is not selling tulips this year,” said Iversen, “which will impact our finances, for sure.”

The Parks panel on which Iversen serves has cancelled its meetings for the foreseeable future, he said.

Beyond that, in the perhaps not foreseeable future, there is optimism La Conner’s strong tradition of volunteerism will emerge intact.

There are concerns, too, however.

“I wonder how people’s priorities will change during this increasing long break?” Scarboro asked. “Will they want to return to work in the (thrift) shop or will their lives have taken them in new directions?”
Still, she and Iversen both struck an overall positive note.

“My hope,” said Scarboro, “is that we will be able to re-open with enthusiasm and continue in operation until construction of the new library.”

Iversen predicted conditions here will be “all better down the road when this mess is done.”

But when that might be, at this point, is far from certain.

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