So can anything good come out of a pandemic, a year later many may be asking themselves this very question…for the Hoh Tribe the answer just might be yes, several times over.
It was a year ago that several Hoh tribal members were out of the area attending a Native Wellness Conference when it was announced that the facility they were at was shutting down. They were told to finish up and then they were locking up. The state was going into the “Shut Down.”
CJ Ashue said, “I was thinking should we even be here? We had been meeting around tables, close together, no masks.” She said they finished and headed for home at the Hoh Reservation; the Hoh reservation was then also closed up.
As the Hoh Tribe looked at keeping members safe they looked around at what was needed. Lisa Martinez, Head bookkeeper for the tribe, decided she would help at the Food Bank that is located in a mobile home on the reservation; the building also houses the library and once a week hosts the clothing bank too.
“What I found shocked me,” Lisa shared. Besides being almost empty the only choices for food were oatmeal, some beans, and rice. “We were shocked and sad to see what was there,” CJ added.
So Lisa went to work, assisted by CJ and Phillip Sifuentes.
The three of them had never made use of the Hoh Tribal Food Bank, so they were unaware of how lacking the choices were.
I had not been involved with the Food Bank before,” Lisa said, “I was afraid, but I could see someone had to step up, I could see that I had to do it.”
Lisa got busy getting shelving installed and also secured a contract with NW Harvest which had lapsed. Next outreach began for donations.
The new shelves in the formerly empty Food Bank began to fill up, not just with needed food items but also, personal products, toothpaste, diapers, bottled water from the Nisqually Tribe, and the much-beloved #1 pandemic item …Toilet paper. They also received donated masks and gloves.
Phil, CJ and Lisa made many, many trips to pick up the items for the Food Bank. Phil said, “It would be like Monday and we would say …where are we going today?”
Some of the entities stepping up with funding as well as food were The Emerald City Mudhens, (the Seattle Rugby Team), who just asked, “What do you need?” Others donating were the ABC Law Group, with meat, and the Hama Hama Oyster Company with seafood.
“The elders really loved the steamers,” Phil said.
OlyCap out of Port Townsend also assisted with the Food Bank upgrade.
Adam Ballout, with the ABC Law Group, even took them on a shopping spree at Costco with a $7,500 spending limit. “Costco had put a limit on TP, and we had three carts full,” Phil said, “but we worked around it.”
They also got lots, and lots of potatoes donated!
So with the newly stocked Food Bank the just under 100 tribal members living at the Hoh were invited on Wednesdays to come to the Food Bank, but …they were a reluctant bunch …remembering the oatmeal, beans, and rice, and boy were they surprised! “We started with maybe two people each week now we get maybe 15,” Lisa shared.
Now on Wednesdays those coming to the food bank get a ‘Dry box’ with canned goods, noodles, peanut butter, and other commodities. In addition to the dry boxes, they have also delivered prepared meals to tribal members at the reservation and those living in Forks.
With the school-age members of the Hoh community being schooled at home, they have also started offering snack bags. And speaking of school … thanks to MelvinJohn Ashue, Vice Chairman of the Hoh Tribe, the reservation now has Starlink. “The kids can now all do their classes at the same time, before they were trying to take turns to do studying and testing, it was hard,” CJ shared.
With the help of Toys for Tots, they were also able to offer toys for the kids at Christmas as well as hats, gloves, and jackets.
As the reservation continues to be closed, many are also staffing the checkpoint, CJ said, “Our kids now say …what job do you have today? Checkpoint? Food Bank?” Lisa is also grandmother to CJ and Phil’s children and now they also say …
“Grandma (Lisa) is never home ..”
Phil, CJ, and Lisa are also now certified forklift operators as they have been tasked with loading and unloading items for the food bank and they are also no longer using the old van they had, they have a new upgraded van that can hold two pallets of food bank items.
Last week the Hoh hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic where about 90 shots were given out. In addition to tribal members, some traveled from Queets and Clearwater to get a vaccine.
While the Hoh reservation remains closed to the outside world the community now has a food bank that people look forward to frequenting. Without the pandemic would the little food bank trailer have ever benefitted from Lisa’s organizational skills?