NESPELEM - The danger of COVID-19 to elders was obvious from the onset of the Colville Tribes’ response to the pandemic on the Colville Indian Reservation.
The Colville Business Council stood up their Emergency Operations Center in mid-March with the goal of the preventing the spread of COVID-19 on the Colville Reservation, and immediately the tribal EOC began encouraging community members to stay home and stay safe - a message also being spread across the state and the nation.
“Our elders are our most important community members, and early on it was clear COVID-19 disproportionately affected that population. We realized we needed to help our elders stay home and stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said EOC Incident Commander Shawn Christianson. “The question was how we could help provide them with meals and other resources. Partnering with the Area Agency on Aging Senior Meal Sites in each district, we were able to do that successfully, while identifying funding sources and ensuring safety protocols with meal delivery.”
“Due to COVID-19 we decided to close the centers from serving meals and start home delivery to help with the tribes’ and states’ campaigns to stay home and stay safe during the pandemic,” said Colville Tribal AAoA Director and Liaison officer for the EOC Larry Robinette. “In doing their part wanting to keep social distance, elders requested to have meals delivered as well request assistance with other services provided by AAoA.”
The EOC and AAoA increased the number of meal deliveries to homes through AAoA’s Senior Meal Sites.
On March 17 the meal sites delivered 178 meals, and by May 11 the program had increased their home deliveries to 494 meals daily (on several recent days, the team has delivered well over 500 meals for the day).
Between March 17 and May 11, the team delivered over 20,251 meals.
“We did approximately 18,200 meals prepared at the Senior Meal sites and 20,300 home delivered meals for a combined 38,500 meals last year,” said Robinette. “We are projecting more than 50,000 meals for this year at this time.”
Along with meal deliveries, the EOC and AAoA have worked to complete outside chores, such as chopping wood and lawn care, help getting medicine delivered, assistance with doctors appointments, grocery pick ups, access to cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment.
At one point, a number of elders were low on wood, and tribal EOC staff cut three cords to help keep elders safe and at home. At another point, Senior Meal Site staff and volunteers made several hundred masks to donate to elders and children.
The efforts have been completed through a small army, including staff and emergency hires at the EOC and AAoA employees.
The senior meal sites, which normally employ 20 staff, are nearly 80 employees strong, a number of whom have been Colville Tribal employees laid off from their regular duties amid the partial government shutdown. Teams with the EOC and AAoA have worked tirelessly to provide administrative tasks - including finding extra supplies and funding sources.
Robinette noted the increase attention has also benefited the meal sites.
“In order to serve these additional meals we have been able to purchase equipment and do repairs to the Senior Centers which may have been delayed due to limited resources,” said Robinette.
Though there have been setbacks.
When Omak Senior Meal Site staff arrived at work April 20, they noticed a lock broken at a storage container outside of the facility. A number of tools were stolen from the container, including:
(2) Gas powered weed eaters
(1) Leaf blower
Various hand tools, including shovels, rakes, mauls and axes
AAoA uses the tools to provide elders with assistance with chores.
Across the Omak district last year the program worked regularly to complete chores for approximately 45 elders, and as part as the COVID-19 response the EOC and AAoA program have served approximately 100 elders daily in the Omak district as part of the COVID-19 response.
Currently, there is no end date defined for the Colville Tribal EOC.
EOC and AAoA continue assisting elders, age 55 years and older, and disabled community members in need of assistance during this time.
If you are an elder, or if you have an elder in your family in need of assistance, please call the Colville Tribal EOC at 509-634-7350.