The flow of traffic between Grants Pass and Cave Junction gets a little bit busier on Wednesdays. Josephine County organizations, largely centered in Grants Pass, pack up and drive to the Illinois Valley to do their important work for the Pop Up Public Health Wednesdays project. A similar effort began in Grants Pass in response to the overwhelming needs of people living without roofs over their heads. The idea started with the Josephine County Parks Services collaboration between Josephine County Public Health and HIV Alliance. Early in 2023, nonprofits such as Max’s Mission, Emergency Preparedness, HIV Alliance, JoCo Food Bank and JoCo Public Health volunteer nurses gathered in Riverside Park to provide food, COVID-19 vaccinations, Narcan education and kits, wound care, blankets, sleeping bags, pet food, toiletries, and anything else they can think of to help people in need.
The service effort came to the I.V. shortly after. “JoCo Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Leah Swanson and Southern Prevention/Harm Reduction Manager Dane Zahner of HIV Alliance wanted to extend the park services they were offering to the unhoused and folks in need to Cave Junction, so through a Josephine County Collaborative meeting that I attend as programs director for I.V. Wellness Resources, I asked for them to offer their services at the I.V. Family Coalition and Jubilee Park,” said Laura Mancuso. “We picked Wednesdays because that is the day I provide an I.V. Living Solutions homeless mail service at the I.V. Family Coalition at noon.”
The Wednesday event starts at noon in the I.V. Family Coalition parking lot, and in the very cold winter months, people can come inside the building for a brief respite from the weather. The event travels to Jubilee Park at 1 p.m. and is there until 2:15 p.m. where the pavilion hosts the opportunity of a warm meal—either cooked by Mancuso or donated by local restaurants such as Taylor’s Country Store, Wild River Pizza, Carlos’ Restaurant, and sometimes unsold Trillium Bakery donuts even make an appearance. Also, retired Doctor Kathy Mechling is on hand to offer help with medical advice.
Mancuso said, “I have tried to help coordinate all the organizations coming, and advertise the event on social media, flyers around town and in the Illinois Valley News. For the most part, the event has been successful through word of mouth from the city park hosts at Jubilee Park and among residents telling each other of the services. I feel very lucky that all of the organizations involved are committed to coming due to the high volume of need and Valley residents coming for services. And recently, our local DHS started sending eligibility workers to help screen for resources. Also, Ashley Boice of the Spiral Living Center came last week with fresh plums to distribute and Options Case Manager Mona Staehr often comes to help out or bring her clients to the services they need. I have tried to do outreach with community partners to let them know what we are doing at the park and then word spreads around town and people offer their services. Each week we serve a meal to between 20 and 30 people and folks are lined up for the other services offered.”
Connie Sagara, a retired nurse, along with other volunteers, was there representing JoCo Food Bank and a newly formed organization named Mobile Integrated Team (MINT). Sagara said, “MINT, started by Cassie Leach, acts as a bridge between the unhoused and resources and began working in Riverside Park early this spring.”
First time volunteer Angie Graves came with her son Josh and said, “Josh wanted to help feed people who were hungry and in need so here we are.” Volunteers like Megan Pugh and Betty Blair are regulars and the whole show is supported in part by funds from I.V. Living Solutions donated by generous community members such as Judi Carpenter and Mountain Wind Sangha plus grants from Allcare Health, Carpenters Foundation, and IVCanDo to help with the food expenses. Mancuso said, “The people in need are so grateful we are there each week providing help. It feels good to be involved in a community that cares about those that are less fortunate and need a helping hand. Recently Connie Dillinger was hired by I.V. Living Solutions as a volunteer coordinator to organize this effort. Dillinger added to the project with a free sack lunch for residents coming to the I.V. Family Coalition on Wednesdays.”