The COVID-19 Pandemic brought unique health, social and economic challenges to Lewis County. Like many transit agencies, Twin Transit implemented sterilization practices and adjusted routes and hours to protect clients and staff, but these initial steps were just the beginning.
Over the last year, Twin Transit has dedicated itself to developing a culture of service, with a focus on problem solving through community collaboration. This culture drove the organization’s response to COVID-19, and its ensuing social and economic repercussions. As the pandemic spread, the question was not simply “what should we do,” but “how can we help?”
As COVID-19 restrictions impacted Lewis County, Twin Transit partnered with the Centralia Chehalis Chamber of Commerce to supply local first responders with adequate personal protective equipment. They also assisted the Boys and Girls Club of Chehalis to help provide a safe place for first responders’ children during the outbreak. In addition, Twin Transit partnered with Twin Cities Rotary to launch a “Vegetables in a Bucket” program, which provided healthy, nourishing micro-gardens to seniors in need.
When Mountain Highway Transit, a neighboring transit agency, had to temporarily close, Twin Transit extended routes into the affected area. This temporary extension of services ensured rural residents who depend on public transit could continue to access grocery stores and medical appointments during the COVID-19 shutdown.
One of the most urgent local issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was the loss of a healthy food supply for senior citizens. Lewis County is a high poverty area, where many older individuals depend on senior center meals for nutrition and economic relief. Traditionally, these meals are served in a group setting at each senior center location. When COVID-19 hit, this model was no longer safe or viable.
Twin Transit partnered with Lewis County Seniors and United Way of Lewis County to continue senior meal service though home delivery. Lewis County Seniors prepared the meals, United Way handled fundraising and volunteer recruitment, and Twin Transit covered logistics and delivery. This model connected local seniors with nutritional meals during the height of the COVID-19 crisis. These three agencies rose to the challenge as need for the program escalated, quickly growing to serve over 650 seniors 4,600 meals per week.
This collaborative model was so successful, Twin Transit broadened their scope, inviting other community nonprofits, agencies and organizations to connect and collaborate. This led to the formation of the Lewis County Community Services Coalition (LCCSC) in March of 2020.
The group quickly grew to involve a diverse array of entities including Hub City Mission, Lewis County Health and Social Services, Rural Senior Health Solutions, Cascade Community Healthcare, Gather Church, Salvation Army, Visiting Nurses, Catholic Community Services, Lewis County mask makers, KACS Radio, Hope Alliance, and Lewis County Veterans.
These organizations worked to build connectivity and a streamlined community response through twice-weekly virtual meetings. Together, they assessed need and generated innovative and collaborative solutions to the negative effects of COVID-19.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, LCCSC organizations provided over 5,400 meals and 1,000 food boxes each week. They also developed and launched a behavioral health response that included a call-in hotline, senior welfare checks, mental engagement, and resource education. They initiated awareness campaigns to promote voluntary masking, COVID-19 safety practices, stress management and coping tools, early childhood intervention services, available resources, and more.
Their ultimate goal? To “collaborate to forward social equity, reduce poverty, and improve life in Lewis County.”
This collaborative model garnered attention from Washington State representatives, who are now working in coordination with the group to proliferate the model State-wide. LCCSC’s dynamic approach is seen as key to strengthening individual communities, developing effective emergency response and effectively addressing food insecurity.
By combining the skills and resources of diverse entities, Twin Transit and the Lewis County Community Services Coalition are building a future of social stability, economic prosperity and limitless potential for our community – during and after COVID-19.