PORT TOWNSEND — Following the statewide closure of schools and revenue-generating events because of COVID-19, business owners and employees all across the North Olympic Peninsula are both tightening their belts and preparing ways to help their neighbors.
Despite seeing a downturn in business and revenue, on Thursday Howell’s Sandwich Company in Port Townsend announced that it will provide free pre-made lunches for anyone who orders the “PT Special.”
“No questions asked, no money, just healthy food for those in need through these unprecedented times,” reads the announcement.
Howell’s owner Mike Howell said the decision was made when workers realized that school districts across the entire state would potentially close in the coming weeks. That happened earlier than many expected, with Gov. Jay Inslee announcing on Friday that all schools in the state would be closed until April 24.
“I come from the south side of Chicago where the schools don’t close because a lot of people rely on them for medical care, food and other basic necessities,” Howell said.
“So it’s just pay-it-forward thinking and you know, no kid should go without a meal.”
Howell’s likely will not be the only shop to begin offering free or reduced meals alongside other services.
“There’s a plethora of businesses around here that do a lot of great things for people, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people start stepping up here in the next couple of weeks,” Howell said.
Six weeks is a long time to be providing free meals, but Howell says his shop will provide them for as long as they can.
“We’ve had a lot of great outpouring from the community already,” he said.
“Several people have been calling offering up donations. We haven’t accepted any yet, we’re still waiting until things go down and we’re in a position where we are able to handle it for the time being.”
In addition to the impact on families with school-aged children, businesses large and small are feeling the economic impacts of COVID-19. Howell’s and many other businesses across the Peninsula have seen a significant slowdown in business as more people are staying home.
“You can kinda see it all over Port Townsend. We went out last night to spread some love around town to a few local establishments and everyone’s feeling it… It’s definitely the topic of conversation,” Howell said.
Businesses in Clallam County are feeling the pinch too. Some have cut staff and hours. Most are putting into effect plans for curbside pickup or deliver.
“Merchants are being proactive and have stepped up in a number of ways,” said Mari Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program.
“Businesses have intensified cleaning procedures at their business — the door knobs and surfaces are getting extra attention.
“Some are offering curb-side service.
“Restaurants are aware of the social distancing mindset and spacing out a bit at the tables. They have stepped up their cleaning, are doing curb-side delivery and working on delivery plans.”
Mullen provided as examples the The Old Whiskey Mill offering a family to-go meal plan, and the Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar offering a half-price bottle of wine with to-go orders.
Mullen also provided a list of ways folks can help local businesses to stay afloat, such as purchasing gift cards to use at a later date or ordering takeout/delivery from a favorite restaurant, or shopping locally online.
Mullen noted that many events have been postponed and canceled, while others have been reworked to benefit the community at this time, such as the Port Townsend Rotary Auction which is set to go online in the last two weeks of April.
“Our Main Street Program coordinates over 20 events a year, and we are deep in the planning stages,” Mullen said.
”While there is uncertainty on the horizon, we are optimistic that Gov. Inslee’s stringent measures will reap huge benefits and flatten this outbreak in its tracks.
“The public taking personal responsibility following the health guidelines is key to the success of this effort,” Mullen said.
“Our merchants and staff are our friends and neighbors,” she continued. “These are local jobs. This is our community.
“Our local businesses here in Port Townsend can only thrive and be here for tomorrow if we patronize them. Let’s get creative. We need to be there for each other now more than ever, but we will have to save the hugs for later after we get through this — and we will.”
Services also have been impacted and have had to change in the wake of COVID-19.
Port Townsend Food Bank, which serves nearly 325 people on a regular basis, anticipates that it will see an uptick in customers as the virus continues to spread forcing businesses to close and people to go without pay for several weeks.
“I think people are going to be needing us now more than ever with kids being home, eating more…people not being able to go to work because they have to be home taking care of their kids, losing paychecks,” said volunteer Manager Shirley Moss.
Among changes coming up are how the food bank will serve clients.
“Before they come in the door, we’re having people put on hand sanitizer and then we’re taking their temperature. Anybody who has a temperature, we asked them to wear an N95 mask which we have for them while they go through the food bank,” she said.
”All the volunteers will have their temperatures taken as well. We are sanitizing every hand cart after every use, we’ve sanitized the tables and as people are going through the line www are not letting them make their own choices as far a touching, they can say what they want, but the volunteers with gloves are the only ones touching the food,” Moss said.
Starting next Wednesday the Port Townsend Food Bank will pre-package food boxes and give them to customers outside.