Hometown Heroes Fight the Pandemic

People stand next to cart full of packaged food.
Discover Burien staff and volunteers deliver food donated by Maven Meals to health care workers at St. Anne’s Hospital. Photo credit: Discover Burien.

“The mark of heroism is giving your neighbor space on the sidewalk and wearing a mask to the grocery store.”

Governor Jay Inslee

Each one of us is helping fight the spread of COVID-19. Sometimes the choice to stay home is the most heroic thing we can do. There are people in our community who had to work outside their homes throughout the pandemic. By staying home, we make it safer for them to provide essential services.

Other than staying home, there were many ways that community members, organizations, and businesses are banding together to help Burien make it through the pandemic and the significant economic challenges it brought.

“Community members often have the solutions to their own problems.”

Pastor Lina Thompson, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church

The “Burien Strong” spirit that so many exhibited during the early months of the pandemic certainly confirm that Burien is resilient.

Mask Makers Unite!

Even before public health agencies mandated wearing masks in public, an army of people had pulled out their sewing machines to make cloth face coverings for their fellow community members. Sometimes, people only had the fabric that was in their supply to work with. People expressed their creativity and personality through this new extension of their wardrobe.

But soon, our local businesses rose to the challenge, and blended fashion with necessity. Howard & Marge Boutique, a Burien clothing business, sold masks printed with ticket stubs from iconic Seattle bands and music venues. Proceeds from the mask sales went to the Washington Nightlife Music Association, which raised money for struggling music venues. 

Even our first responders, who were trying to figure out ways to make their own supplies of PPE, benefitted from the ingenuity of home-based sewing experts.

Fighting Hunger

As more people lost their jobs, the number of community members that faced hunger increased dramatically.

Food banks, and the volunteers that help them operate, had to quickly change how they provide access to food. From offering a “grocery store” experience to contact-free, curbside food pickup, they worked to keep people fed and safe.

The New Start Community Garden, situated next door to New Start High School, donated 1,000 pounds of produce to local food banks. The Hazel Valley Community Garden, located next to Highline United Methodist Church, also continued operations throughout the summer and spring.

“We kept them going, keeping the volunteers socially distanced and following safety measures,” said Grace Stiller, founder of Nature Stewards and long-time volunteer for both community gardens.

New ways of making sure people are fed emerged. World Vision partnered with four local churches to serve Highline School District families with immediate food support on a weekly basis. Southwest Youth and Family Services, Para Los Niños de Highline, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, and La Roxay Productions organized a community food drive called “Feeding el Pueblo” (Alimentando al Pueblo) to bring culturally relevant foods to Latinx community members living in the Highline area. 

“People deserve to have the food that they eat. Ways to prepare food is passed on through generations. Cooking is ceremony. Smell and taste give us happy memories in the midst of so much trauma and pain.”

Roxana Pardo Garcia, organizer of the Feeding el Pueblo food bank

Fighting Social Isolation

From Zoom social hours, to drive-through spiritual services, neighbors and community leaders are finding ways to combat the loneliness and stress that the pandemic is causing.

For example, City staff have been calling older residents to check in on their needs and they are recruiting volunteers to participate in the Call Chain Program to help check-in on isolated older adults. The school district is checking in with families by phone and Zoom. And organizations such as Southwest Youth and Family Services, Para los Niños, and local churches continue to connect with families as well as provide financial support for essential needs such as rent and utility payments.

“When we talk to families, we hear a lot of sadness, frustration, trauma, and anxiety,” said Norma Ortiz, Family Advocate, Southwest Youth & Family Services. “Especially moms. Every time I call them, they start crying. The children are scared and don’t want to leave the house.”

“Our summer youth program provided social and emotional development for young people,” said Pastor Lina Thompson, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church. “One of the kids in our summer youth program said ‘I miss my friends. I miss playing. I miss school.’ There is a lot of grief.”

The negative impact of COVID-19 on mental health was immediate, and there will be long-term effects. These ill effects have been exacerbated by uncertainty associated with the spread of the disease, information and misinformation overload, and feelings of isolation created by social distancing. Many residents are experiencing stress, anxiety, or great sadness that is difficult to cope with by themselves. Behavioral health providers, such as Navos, continue to serve clients through contact-free methods.  Read more from David M. Johnson, Ed.D, MultiCare Behavioral Health Foundation Board Member, and Retired CEO of Navos, on ways to reduce anxiety and build resilience.

Burien Strong

Two of Burien’s hardest working community leaders, Debra George and Sarah Toce, began organizing right away. As part of their work with Discover Burien, a nonprofit economic development organization focused on supporting Burien businesses, they formed the Burien Strong Facebook Group. Through this group, individuals were able to organize efforts to help our local businesses. 

“Burien Strong was created as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sarah Toce, executive assistant for Discover Burien. “The idea was to help small local businesses stay in operation.”

Debra George, executive director of Discover Burien, helps deliver food donations to health care workers at St. Anne’s Hospital. Photo credit: Discover Burien.

Discover Burien provided businesses with employee and owner education and support, including help with applying for federal and state relief funding and re-connecting businesses to customers. Toce and Debra George, executive director of Discover Burien, devoted hours to helping local businesses—from helping deliver takeout orders to managing volunteers. When businesses were closed more than they were open, Burien Strong kept a running list to share their hours of operation with the community. They created YouTube videos highlighting small business owners and even created a drive-in movie series to help people feel a sense of excitement during a dark time.

Toce and George also successfully opened the 2020 season of the Burien Farmers Market, under drastically different and stricter health requirements. The second farmers market to open in the Seattle area during the pandemic, it not only provided farm-fresh food for the community, but was one of the few outdoor events allowed, giving the entire community a much-needed morale boost.

Parents Become Teachers Overnight

Every parent of school-age children knows what a struggle the past few months have been. With very little warning, we were suddenly thrust into the role of both parent and educator for our children.

Even experienced homeschoolers will tell you that what we faced during the pandemic was not homeschooling.  We couldn’t rely on field trips or other in-person events and supportive spaces to relieve the burden. To every parent or guardian that supported your children through this difficult time, you are a hero!

The Burgess family worked together to access online learning at home. Photo credit: Highline Public Schools.

What’s your story?

There are thousands of stories of ordinary Burien residents who helped their neighbors make it through. We are highlighting a few of these hometown heroes in this story, but if you have others that you want us to acknowledge, please let us know by sending an email to communications@burienwa.gov. We are also working with the Highline Heritage Museum to gather community stories about life during the pandemic through the Burien Pandemic Story Project.


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