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Walla Walla Mutual Aid Network ready to run

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WW Mutual Aid Network

Although the Walla Walla Mutual Aid Network is in the first few days of life, founders of the grassroots organization are almost ready to run.

The new entity formed, nearly overnight, as a way to help residents here in this time of pandemic urgency, said founder Abigail Scholar, who is also executive director of Central Washington Justice for Our Neighbors.

The COVID-19 virus pandemic hit Washington state hard and fast, catching every community unprepared for the unprecedented crisis, officials have said.

As a community advocate, Scholar and others began doing what they do best — by organizing.

“Here we were, sitting around and asking ‘What are we going to do,’ ” Scholar recalled.

The answer was a familiar one to Scholar — organize for good.

She, joined by people at Walla Walla Democratic Socialists of America and Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, decided to start where they could offer immediate — albeit small and short term — help in Walla Walla.

“We thought about, we always think about, our most at-risk community members. It became apparent we need to address three categories as funds become available, Scholar said, listing off those needs.

Elderly folks, who should be isolating themselves as much as possible, will need prescriptions picked up. A family stuck at home with children could use a grocery delivery or other resources.

Others, especially those already feeling the pandemic’s economic pinch, will need some cash.

The plan is to fulfill these needs large and small donations and a team of volunteers, she said.

In just a matter of six days since the aid network was born, at least 120 volunteers have stepped forward, and fundraising has brought more than $1,000 to the cause.

Another $3,000 is coming from a social justice nonprofit, and a number of people have offered to help pay for groceries, Scholar said.

The idea is to spread the love as far as possible, by capping financial gifts to folks at $50, and the same for the grocery tabs — the more money that comes in, the more that can go out to those who need it, she added.

Donations of $1,000 or more will be channeled through Scholar’s organization, Central Washington Justice for Our Neighbors, and will be tax deductible. In the meantime, smaller gift will be handled through Mutual Aid Network’s treasurer.

The new organization does not want to overlap services already being offered, but fill in the small gaps as it can, in a judgement-free way, Scholar said.

“These families know what they need … it might be paying an electric bill or getting a kid’s glasses. There is no way for us to predict those needs.

She and other organizers hope to have the stamina — everyone is still working full time, Scholar said — and money to keep the community aid going at least as long as the schools are closed.

“We are doing the best we can to have a big enough base to rotate and not burn out. We are going to work, based on the assumption things will get better in the next couple of months.”

Still, money will be the biggest voice, she added.

“When our resources are out, they are out.”

Every penny donated is going back to the community, other than the small fee of the online fundraising company, Scholar said,

“Obviously we can’t meet every request, but as donations come in, the more we can meet requests.”

For more information, go to wallawallahelp.org.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.