Serving rural seniors requires partnering
After serving several nonprofit agencies and gaining skills, Paige Collins feels she was led to the work at the Council on Aging in Colfax.
"I love the feeling of taking care of people in need and surprising them with what our agency and partners have to offer," said Paige, who grew up Lutheran in Bellevue, Wash.
Years ago, driving across the state and through the Palouse to and from college at Washington State University in Pullman, Paige felt that the people living in the old farmhouses were lucky.
Eventually, she and her husband realized they could move there to be closer to one child at Fairchild AFB, another at University of Idaho and a third at WSU. They now live in LaCrosse and operate a nonprofit, Livestock Rescue, at their farm.
After earning a bachelor's in criminal science with a minor in social work at WSU in 1989, her goal was originally to go into criminal justice and mental health work, but career choices led her to fall in love with the nonprofit world after volunteering with a food bank in Seattle.
In a few months, she became the food bank's manager. Eight years later, she began working for Northwest Harvest in Spokane, and seven years ago Suzy McNeilly of the Council on Aging in Colfax urged her to apply there.
The council has two sites in Colfax providing for food and transportation needs in Whitman County.
The agency's nutrition side is varied. They have eight senior meal sites they oversee around the county. They also support 13 food pantries along with the Meals on Wheels program for Pullman and Colfax.
"For the number of staff we have, we are busy," Paige said.
"Being in a rural area, it's 100 percent different than serving in downtown Seattle where there are 27 food banks competing for the same pots of money. Here, we partner with everyone on everything. We oversee most area food banks to make sure everyone has food," she said.
This work is only possible through support from communities they serve.
"The communities really do step up," she said.
Food sources are Second Harvest and Northwest Harvest. They do a grocery rescue at Walmart and Safeway in Pullman, and Rosauer's in Colfax.
In the summer growing season, they have a robust farm-to-food program supported by state and other grants. Soon they will bring in large quantities of produce to give away at the food pantries and the senior meal programs.
Meals on Wheels serves 20 individuals in Pullman, and 10 in Colfax every day.
The Food Pantry program added another food bank last July. Cougar Food, housed on the WSU campus, serves students.
Through Senior Meal sites, people can come for a sit-down meal every day of the week in different parts of Whitman County. Most locations have a core group of 30 people who show up. Pullman has more, Endicott has fewer, Paige reported. Senior Meals also allow individuals to take to-go meals home.
"The Food Pantry numbers have jumped dramatically, as they were serving more than 1,000 a month," she said. "Now we serve 3,200 individuals every month through all food pantries."
The Council on Aging continually needs volunteers in the Colfax office, at senior meal locations and at area food pantries.
"Most rural food pantries are covered, but we can use the extra hands in Colfax pantries," she said.
"We try to be a resource hub in Whitman County for nutrition and transportation, everything that people might need," said Paige.
"We have good connections with resource services in the county. If folks call needing chore help at home, we connect them with Rural Resources, the Community Action Center or whoever has the resource needed," said Paige.
The transportation program, COAST Transportation, was the original part of a business started in the late 1970s, transporting seniors to go shopping.
Now they transport anyone with a need for a ride. That program operates in five counties in Idaho and four counties in Washington.
"Last year drivers drove more than 500,000 miles," Paige said. "They are busy, so they are always seeking new volunteers."
COAST transportation drivers take people to have their hair done, go shopping, visit a nursing home or go to doctor appointments for no charge.
"We always need volunteer drivers. We cover 57 cents a mile. It's a good job for someone who works or has just retired, who does not want to sit around. They can drive as much as they like or as little as they want," she explained.
"We need volunteer drivers every day. That is the greatest need right now," said Paige.