News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Helping those hit hard by crisis

Sisters Country has come together to address those affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Tom Hespe, along with a team of dedicated volunteers, coordinates the Kiwanis Food Bank in Sisters. One of two local Food Banks, Kiwanis and Westside Church are both open and experiencing a major increase in demand. Fortunately, Hespe says they have also seen a boost in donations and new volunteers.

“When I was working out in front of the food bank on April 2, people were driving up in their cars and waving a check out the window. That happened six to seven times that day!” said Hespe.

He’s confident that the food bank is funded through the end of year, and will be able to continue to deliver consistent service to their clients. They’ve also received generous donations of other kinds from community members, including 100 bandanas from the Sisters Community Church to use as face coverings for their clients, a gift of classic children’s books, and lunch for their volunteers.

However, they’ve had to undertake a major restructuring of their delivery model to adapt to CDC guidelines and social distancing requirements, moving from an efficient “shopping cart” model to a menu and box program that requires more volunteers to deliver successfully.

This has temporarily forced the food bank to reduce their service from once a week to once every other week (the Westside Church Food Bank is still open once a week). Hespe says they hope to get back to their old model as soon as possible, but in the meantime are in need of a few additional volunteers — particularly younger community members. Most veteran volunteers are over 60 and at higher risk from the virus. If you’re interested in volunteering, Hespe encourages community members reach out to him directly at [email protected]

Fully 20 percent of the Food Bank’s clients are experiencing homelessness, Hespe estimates. George Myers, Sisters Country resident and local homeless advocate, says he is grateful that the City of Sisters elected to keep local public restrooms and showers open during the crisis, providing critical access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Sisters Cold Weather Shelter closed on schedule at the end of February, and Myers says a big challenge now is outreach. He is working with the Homeless Leadership Coalition to distribute “outreach cards” to local camps and individuals, containing information on COVID-19 symptoms and available resources.

For those looking to plug in, Myers encourages donations to local partners like the Family Access Network (FAN) and the Food Banks.

“They know what people need, and are doing their very best to provide it,” said Myers.

To support local businesses impacted by the crisis, the Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce and EDCO-Sisters have been working hard to understand needs, connect business owners to available resources, and provide marketing support. In collaboration with The Nugget, the Chamber of Commerce has offered advertising support to local businesses. EDCO has helped local traded sector businesses pivot their business model and distribution methods to meet emerging needs. Both encourage business owners to reach out for additional support.

Janel Ruehl is Program Administrator for Community & Economic Development with the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC). She is working on the implementation of the Sisters Country Vision Project. For more information, visit


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