Chamber of Commerce, Lewis County Public Health and Others Update Centralia Council on Use of COVID-19 Funding

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On Tuesday evening, the Centralia City Council heard reports, given by four organizations that were allocated CARES Act funds, on how that money was used to help the community through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce, Lewis County Public Health and Social Services, the Centralia Downtown Association and the Riverside Fire Authority each gave the council an update. 

Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Alica Bull reported that they have been using the funds to purchase and distribute personal protective equipment to local businesses.

Bull said the chamber was able to provide supplies to about 80 Centralia businesses. The supplies included hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, plexiglass dividers, ultraviolet disinfection lights and touch-free thermometers to be used at various businesses such as daycares, funeral homes, dentist offices and assisted living homes. 

“The value of each box is over $500 a box, so there’s a lot of good product in there,” Bull said. 

Meja Handlen from Lewis County Public Health and Social Services told the council how the CARES Act funds helped the county get the night-by-night shelter up and running. The money provided for the purchase of two sets of washers and dryers that can be used to wash the bedding and clothing of those staying in the shelter. 

“The night-by-night shelter has been open 98 days now and has served 1,764 persons. That means individuals in a night, coming in, not sleeping in doorways and having a warm, safe place to stay, had the opportunity to launder their clothes,” Handlen said. 

The other washer and dryer set was placed at The Salvation Army. Handlen shared a story of a single parent who has been living off and on out of their car due to being laid off from their job. The parent contacted the county looking for help to get their child ready to go back to school.

“We connected them with the washing facility so the parents went in, washed the student’s clothes and were very excited when after the first day of school the student said ‘I was excited to be there, my teacher said I looked awesome and I learned a lot,'” Handlen said.

She said she was happy the county is able to provide a laundry facility to those who may not have access.

Riverside Fire Authority Fire Chief Mike Kytta told the council how the CARES Act funds, matched with funds from their EMS Levy, allowed them to purchase an automated chest compression system.

“This is a device that is used on patients that have experienced a cardiac arrest. In a typical year, we respond to between 20 and 30 cardiac arrests in the city limits alone,” Kytta said.

The CPR administered by the automated chest compression system, Kytta said, is superior to CPR administered by response personnel because of the consistency of compressions and for the fact that a machine doesn’t get tired.

The Centralia Downtown Association (CDA) used the CARES Act funds allocated to them to provide numerous small business grants to Centralia businesses to develop their website or for social media marketing. 

The CDA also distributed 17 grants of up to $5,000 to businesses that showed their financials to prove that they had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I will say that it was pretty shocking to see how much money our businesses have lost in the last year. It made me wonder if this $5,000 grant was going to be effective, but I heard over and over again that it really made a difference for people,” CDA Executive Director Teri Zambon said.

The CDA also updated its website to show the offerings of Centralia business to provide online shopping. 

The organization hired a professional photographer to take photos of the local businesses for the website. 

Zambon said that very few businesses in downtown Centralia closed amid the pandemic. 

“It is really impressive that we have been able to hold our ground. Most cities in Washington are not in this position right now,” she said. 

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