COVID crisis brings islanders together

COVID crisis brings islanders together

Islanders uniting to assist fellow islanders have provided a bright spot during the COVID epidemic. Immediately following the outbreak of the disease in Washington state, the San Juan Island Community Foundation created an emergency response fund has generated $181,445 in less than eight weeks.

“We know there has been a surge in demand for food, rent and general financial assistance,” Carrie Unpingco, executive director of the San Juan Community Foundation, said in a recent press release

According to Upingco, San Juan County has a 27 percent unemployment rate, that number is predicted to reach 30 percent soon more than double both the national and Washington state levels.

“It’s clear that critical support will need to be provided to vulnerable residents for months to come,” Upingco said, adding that the foundation is committed to granting emergency funds quickly where it’s needed most as well as making a concerted effort to ensure funds will continue to be available for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

To date, more than $57,000 has been granted to nonprofits for COVID-19 needs from the SJICF Emergency Response Fund, including $42,000 to the San Juan Island Family Resource Center for Emergency Funds; $3,800 to the San Juan Island Agricultural Guild for the Food Hub; $2,000 to the San Juan Island Food Co-op for safety upgrades to its cashier station; $2,500 to Island Haven Animal Sanctuary for a Farm Relief Fund (Animal Care); $925 to the San Juan County Economic Development Council for Business Recovery Outreach Programs; $2,000 to the Toddler Learning Center for Teletherapy Training; $1,153 to San Juan Island Compass Health for tablets to provide remote healthcare; and $2,812 to Kwiaht for a San Juan Island Food Resiliency Program.

According to Island Haven Animal Sanctuary Executive Director Julie Duke, there have been many local horse owners and farmers in need due to the pandemic.

“Our hope is to help our community members continue caring for their animals, with regular farrier visits, keeping up on supplements and medications, veterinary needs, necessary feed and hay — so that their animals remain healthy and up to date with what they need during these uncertain times,” Duke said. “ Thanks to the community foundation, we can help them through these tough times — and also, reach out before the problem becomes too serious.”

For those experiencing financial hardship resulting in difficulties caring for their animals, visit For more details, see the sanctuary press release on Page 9.

In addition to the emergency fund, SJICF donor-advised fundholders have also granted an additional $32,000 to other nonprofits including Safe San Juans, the San Juan Community Home Trust, the Food Bank and San Juan Hospice.

“We are very appreciative of the kindness, generosity, and interest shown to our agency and the people we serve during this strange time we are in,” San Juans Executive Director Dave Dunaway said.

Dunaway added that SAFE San Juans’ staff and board are grateful to the islands’ community foundations and San Juan County Health and Community Services for their support, and for the agencies taking a long-term look at needs rather than a short term one.

“Two most pressing needs are housing for those fleeing domestic violence and the ability to receive counseling from one of Safe’s therapists and counselors,” Dunaway said. “In regard to housing, the need exists because DV victims must continually choose to either leave their abuser or stay or return and risk further injury. This choice is especially difficult when children are involved. In the absence of housing, domestic violence victims and their children must choose to be homeless, leave the county if they can find a place to go, or return to [or] remain with the person who has been hurting them.”

Domestic violence survivors need a roof over their heads while Safe San Juans staff works to wrap supportive services around them and help them and their families become independent, Dunaway explained. No matter their background, those escaping domestic violence generally arrive at Safe San Juans with nothing, according to Dunaway, because all of the assets are controlled by the abuser, typical of the power and control dynamics involved.

“It is a horrible feeling, and traumatizing to Safe’s staff, when they have worked hard to help a person escape violence only to watch them go back to the one who hurts them because they don’t want to be homeless but don’t have any other options,” Dunaway said.

Safe San Juans recently received assistance from San Juan County through its COVID-related housing funds to help provide longer-term, up to approximately 30 days, emergency shelter for clients whose housing becomes unsafe because of violence, Dunaway explained.

“We are thrilled about this because it allows our clients, and their children, to stay in their community and continue receiving Safe’s supportive services,” Dunaway said.

Safe San Juans also received a generous gift from the Honeywell Charitable Fund of The Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region to establish a bridge-transitional housing program on San Juan Island for DV survivors, for which Dunaway also expressed gratitude.

SJICF has also launched the San Juan Island Community Response Hub website, This site is maintained by the foundation but is regularly updated by many nonprofits in the community. San Juan Islanders can find the latest list of available resources, post a need, sign up to volunteer, and donate money or items. Local nonprofits and businesses post service updates to the site as well as events and job opportunities.

Since April 1, the San Juan Island Community Foundation has hosted a weekly Virus Response Zoom meeting, with 35-50 nonprofits and county service providers, according to the foundation’s website. Specific need topics centered around emerging employment data and an opportunity to collaborate are among the weekly discussion items. Collaboration efforts emerged from these meetings, addressing several critical needs. These include ongoing rental and home mortgage assistance, behavioral health services, and food delivery for students during the summer months.

“Many residents are finding that they are in need for the first time and may not be comfortable asking for help. There are many resources available and we hope people will reach out to the SJI Family Resource Center,” Unpingco said.

To make a secure contribution to the SJICF Emergency Fund, visit To donate by check, mail it to SJICF, PO Box 1352, Friday Harbor. Although the SJICF office at 640 Mullis Center is currently closed, you can still reach staff at 360-378-1001 or