Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
                                Clinton resident Jake Stewart selects a box of Kleenex from the Star Store as part of a delivery order.

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group Clinton resident Jake Stewart selects a box of Kleenex from the Star Store as part of a delivery order.

Help behind the wheel

Often, a crisis can bring out the best in people.

On South Whidbey, residents have banded together to help deliver items to their fellow homebound neighbors in need.

Clinton resident Jake Stewart started personally volunteering his time to pick up groceries, medicine and more for those at highest risk from the coronavirus.

“People are scared,” he said. “We’ve got to be aware that there’s a population that can easily be stranded, and they need medications.”

Stewart delivers free of charge, leaving receipts on doorsteps to minimize contact and accepting payment for the items he purchased either by PayPal, Venmo or cash at a later date.

When he is in the stores, he wears masks and gloves, ever conscious of the fact that germs can be spread on surfaces.

He believes the younger and able-bodied residents of the island have a duty to step up and help their older neighbors. By shopping exclusively at Whidbey businesses rather than big-box stores, he is hoping to help contribute to the local economy.

Stewart has even extended this delivery service to front-line medical professionals, who often work long hours during a health crisis and may not have the time to pick up a meal or groceries.

He currently delivers strictly to the South End.

A resident of Langley, Beth Jarmolow had been struggling to find a way to pick up medications for her long-term chronic illness. She has been self-quarantined for the past few days with little contact with the outside world.

“If I were to get the virus, I’m probably going to have a pretty hard time fighting it and may be one of those people needing hospitalization,” Jarmolow said.

She found Rite-Aid was overwhelmed with deliveries and unable to help. Fortunately, Senior Services of Island County was able to refer her to Stewart.

“I was so heartened to get Jake’s name and call him up,” she said. “It’s just wonderful to feel supported and cared about by the larger community, and not forgotten.”

Jarmolow added she felt more relieved and less isolated, knowing someone, even if it was a random person she had never met before, wanted to help her.

“I’d just encourage more young, healthy people to follow Jake’s model,” she said.

A group of friends from Calvary Chapel on French Road have also been looking for ways to reach out to people in their homes.

Organizer Michael Nehring recently programmed a website, WhidbeyHelp.com, to address the community’s needs. At first he gathered volunteers from his church, but now other community members have chipped in, bringing the number of volunteers up to 50.

“I saw a couple people posting on Facebook, ‘Hey, I’m nervous to leave my house, could someone get this thing for me?’” Nehring said.

His website aims to be “easy to use” and “a low friction way” to connect people needing help with those who want to help. It is geared towards the South Whidbey community.

People can submit needs through the website and track its progress. Like Stewart’s service, delivery is free of charge, and people need only pay for what they have purchased.

“I’m open to a diversity of needs,” Nehring said. “I imagine there’s needs I probably haven’t pictured yet, because I’m not stuck at home.”

Stewart agreed that a central point of contact would be helpful for people to know, he but doesn’t have all the answers about how that should be organized. He acknowledged that some people communicate more by phone than by the internet.

People can currently contact him at stewart@usa.net with their needs.

“I think it’s good whatever other people are doing,” Stewart said. “Just that personal interaction is key for me, but I applaud everybody.”

He added, “If there was a way to weather this, I would bank on the South End.”

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