Early this year, our community began experiencing the impacts of the pandemic and consequent economic slide. While national unemployment rose to 14%, our local Economic Development Council estimated the rate in San Juan County was 28%. For many families and individuals, this public health crisis quickly became a financial crisis.
OICF immediately ramped up efforts to ensure that the programs providing critical housing, food, and other essential supports had the resources they needed to meet the dramatically increasing needs with the creation of the Community Emergency Response Fund. Fortunately, we also received a call very early on from Kevin Ranker, who offered to help wherever he could. He jumped in to support the Food Bank as they quickly expanded and reorganized. He then joined the OICF team to help raise awareness of community needs and ensure we had the resources to meet those needs as they grew and shifted. He helped develop creative solutions that have added to our community resilience and, with the incredible generosity of hundreds of islanders, raised significant support in collaboration with our non-profit community organizations, including leaders of the Emmanuel and Community Churches.
Seven months into the pandemic it is fair to say that local efforts to ensure a strong safety net have been truly remarkable. The community has donated over $1.4 Million to sustain those organizations providing direct community support such as the Food Bank, OPAL Community Land Trust, Orcas Community Resource Center, and the Senior Center.
For many neighbors, this support has quite literally meant that they can stay in their homes and put food on the table. These donations allowed OPAL to help over 270 households keep their homes, and the Orcas Community Resource Center and Senior Center continue to provide critical support services for our most needy and vulnerable. This support also helped the Food Bank expand to feed hundreds of our friends and neighbors providing local produce, bread, and other island goods while directly supporting our farms, bakeries, restaurants, and their employees, at a time when most were desperately struggling.
Most recently, with Kevin’s help, we launched a historic partnership between the Northwest Indian College, Western Washington University, and the San Juan Conservation District. Together they have developed the Orcas Island Civilian Conservation Corps creating natural resource jobs and diversifying our economy while addressing climate impacts. This paid certificate program trains participants in both modern forest and wildfire management and native land management strategies built over millennia by the Coast Salish people. This may very well be the first cross-cultural curriculum of its type in U.S. history.
While OICF will continue to provide essential support and resources as the impact of the pandemic remains, Kevin will be transitioning at the end of September to support two organizations dedicated to empowering minority communities and electing minority women to public office. OICF is ever grateful for his remarkable efforts to support this community and we look forward to working with him again in the near future. Thank you, Kevin!
Have a good weekend….hopefully, the rain will come!