Spokane Mobility Services reaches out to feed people
Bringing her commitment to feed people with dignity to Special Mobility Services (SMS), Holly Chilinski developed a way to use county CARES funds to meet needs of hungry people who lack mobility.
Working with the Spokane Food Security Coalition, she sees the need and coordinates logistics related to pandemic needs and transportation resources, using SMS vehicles to deliver food. The coalition works for an equitable, resilient food system.
To scale the daily need, the project used partnerships with Jewels Helping Hands, New Hope Resource Center, the Zone Project, Meals on Wheels and SMS drivers. They delivered food to food insecure households. The STA loaned a Vanpool vehicle to move more food. Second Harvest provided most of the food.
"I've long been in the world of food services. Transportation is a departure from my usual vein of work since I came to Spokane from Montana after high school to be near my sister," said Holly, who first worked for a year with AmeriCorps VISTA with Feed Spokane in 2007.
Next, she worked three years with Shalom Ministries, which serves meals with dignity to people downtown in the New Community Church building at 518 W. Third Ave.
There, she learned the names of the 300 people who came. She helped the program shift from using long rectangular tables to round ones and to having volunteers sit with guests to break down barriers.
Then she worked with the region's two Meals on Wheels programs—two years with the Greater Spokane County MOW and three years with Mid-City Concerns MOW, until March 2019, when she started at SMS.
"With Meals on Wheels, I saw the effects of isolation and the importance of having caring people visit seniors," Holly said.
Her role as mobility manager for SMS services for seniors and disabled people gives her the opportunity to increase transportation options so all people in the county have what they need for health and are visible.
Holly finds joy in serving people in all circumstances.
"I value the dignity that delivery of food offers. I strive for new ways to promote someone receiving help in a compassionate, kind manner," she said.
"For food distribution, it needs to be low barrier and accessible so dignity plays out," said Holly, who would like to see the month-long food delivery pilot project continue.
On March 9, the five agencies that received CARES funding in 2020 approved by the Spokane County Board of Commissioners provided a food insecurity report. This report included effects of the funding and projections of future need, Holly said.
Themes of the presentation were: 1) collaboration is essential to the efforts, 2) funding has economic benefits for farmers and restaurants and 3) new ways of ensuring access were essential to the program's success.
The commissioners allocated $48,307 for December to create a COVID food delivery system as part of SMS's one-click-one-call system.
"Our goal with SMS is to provide a service for individuals that is effortless, rather than confusing or frustrating. People are not used to asking for help, but the privacy of their request for food was honored through sms1.org, or by calling or texting 211.
"For at-risk homes, food needs show first. Food is a gateway to other care in our partnerships in the community," Holly said.
In December, SMS met daily requests for 60 to 1,000 boxes of food, delivering a total of 80,000 pounds of food to 2,000 households in the county.
"People needed deliveries because they were at-risk of catching COVID, lacked access to services of food banks because of the days and times they were open, lacked access to transportation or had limited mobility—using walkers, canes or wheelchairs," she said.
A follow-up showed a high level of food insecurity in the population SMS serves downtown, with 44 percent saying they felt food insecure more than 12 times a month.
"Most deliveries were in the downtown core where the poverty rate is 46.3 percent and 62.4 percent are in no-vehicle households," said Holly. "East Central, West Central and Hillyard neighborhoods have high need."
"Many individuals said they choose between paying bills on time and eating, or worry their family will not eat," she said. "Having food delivered meant they were able to plan meals, they felt the community cared and they were able to focus on work or caring for family members."
Holly hopes SMS can continue the project for people with no access to a vehicle and have limited mobility, because "there is need to deliver food to more than seniors and need for more services."
In April, SMS began a pilot program, Growing Neighbors. Volunteers go outside, exercise and care for the environment while taking care of neighbors.
Holly seeks volunteers to deliver food by bicycle and food partners to be hubs to distribute food in their neighborhoods.
Partners support the food delivery project with excess food resources and benefit from having increased service capacity with deliveries to people who cannot get to food distribution centers, even in their neighborhoods.
"To increase the sustainability, equity and resilience of this program and neighborhoods, volunteers will also pick up excess produce from community gardens, stock little free pantries and pick up compostable food scraps to deliver to community composting hubs," Holly said.
SMS's role is usually to transport people to have access to medical care to be healthy.
Food assures health, so it is an area for growth and may include transportation to grocery stores or farmers' markets, she said.
SMS's mission since 1973 has been to provide opportunities to move people, connect communities and provide mobility and opportunities in the lives of seniors, people with disabilities and people with low incomes.
SMS transports people to Medicaid appointments, provides a community shuttle to connect rural communities—Newport, Ritzville, Davenport and Deer Park—to Spokane.
For information, call 217-9375 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sms1.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2021