We all know how important it is to wash our hands, wipe down surfaces, and physically distance ourselves from other people these days. That’s easier said than done if you run a homeless shelter or serve meals to people in need. Or, for that matter, if you work at the newly opened Benton County Emergency Response Center or any other organization accepting donated items from the public.

The fact is that sanitation and physical distancing have become urgent and expensive hurdles for anyone in our community who provides food, healthcare, elder or shelter services, or interacts with anyone through a service provider or nonprofit.  One example of a nonprofit dealing with this challenge is Stone Soup. This group has been serving hot meals in a group setting to anyone who’s hungry, every day of the year, for almost 40 years. Much of their food comes from Linn Benton Food Share. Stone Soup is an all-volunteer organization, with most of their volunteers in the 60-and-older age range.

When the COVID-19 crisis arrived, Stone Soup had to change their service to a take-out-only service because sit-down meals don’t work with social distancing requirements. They’re paying a catering company to prepare their food from Linn Benton Food Share, and they’re paying for rented handwashing stations that are set up outside each meal site. They’ve had to add an outdoor volunteer at each site to make sure clients wash their hands and stand 6 feet apart, just at a time when most of their regular volunteers have had to stop helping out.

People facing homelessness are struggling, even more than usual, to find access to shelter, showers, bathrooms and handwashing, just at a time when personal hygiene is more important than ever. The two main reasons for these extra burdens are that staff and the people they serve all have to observe social distancing, and that staff would need prohibitively expensive or unavailable protective equipment to stay safe while sanitizing these facilities. The men’s shelter has closed to overnight use. Community Outreach had to close their community showers. Many buildings with public bathrooms are now closed, and the restrooms at public parks are locked because the city doesn’t have proper protective equipment to keep their janitorial staff safe.

Numerous organizations are stepping up to the challenge. For example, community volunteers have constructed and donated handwashing stations for the City of Corvallis’s portable toilets. The county is actively working on setting up transportation, showers, and motel sheltering for people living without stable housing. But all of this costs money and time to set up and run.

Sanitation and social distancing have created an added layer of challenge to the agencies and nonprofits providing services to people in need. Let’s recognize this challenge and support the local organizations that are providing food, shelter and other urgent services for our neighbors in need. See our blog post, Updates from Benton County Nonprofits re: COVID-19, for a partial list of these community nonprofits, the services they’re providing related to the pandemic, the particular challenges they’re facing, and what their current needs are to allow them to continue their good work. Please also visit https://bentoncounty.recovers.org/ to make donations and to volunteer with the County.