by Ariel Slifka, Tillamook County Wellness AmeriCorps VISTA
Between COVID-19 and the wildfires, Tillamook County has seen its fair share of challenges this year. Yet Jody Bell, who was born and raised in Tillamook, is proud of how the community has stepped up to support those in need. She points out that within the first 24 hours of the stay-at-home order this spring, three separate Facebook groups had formed: one for making masks, one for those who needed extra support, and one for organizing the volunteers who could help. This immediate response to community needs was also seen more recently with the wildfires when the local fire command center and evacuation shelter received more donations than they could even use. As Jody reflected, “That is Tillamook in a nutshell. We take care of each other.”

As we all try to adapt to the continuation of COVID-19, it is important to remember that for many of us, the impacts of COVID-19 still weigh heavily. For Jody, who uses a powerchair to move around downtown, the closure of local businesses and handicap restrooms, along with the risk of COVID-19, has limited her ability to leave her home. Some of us may have noticed that many places have closed their bathrooms to the public due to the pandemic, but this has also severely impacted the already few handicap restrooms that are available. The addition of the wildfires also added another difficulty for those who have limited mobility – how do you quickly gather necessary items and organize transportation for an evacuation while using a powerchair?
Jody has faced these challenges head on and continues to look for opportunities to engage with others even when following physical distancing guidelines. Although her favorite coffee shop has closed their indoor seating, she has more recently been able to spend time at Tangled Yarns, a local craft store where community members can share crocheting projects and tips on Friday afternoons. Jody has found crocheting to be a stress-relieving hobby that also provides the opportunity to give back to the community – she has so far donated 17 hats to victims of the fires in southern Oregon.
Despite this coping strategy, the most difficult aspect of COVID-19 for Jody has been the isolation and the loneliness that comes with living on her own during a pandemic. Although her cat Tilly responds to emotions, she is unable to provide the human interaction and conversation that we all need in order to thrive. Jody emphasized the importance of utilizing video chat functions or even just making a quick phone call instead of sending a text message. With months of physical distancing, checking in on each other through a vocal conversation can make a world of a difference in providing genuine care or support. She also highlighted the reality of many of us feeling lonely or depressed and the difficulty of reaching out for help, which is why someone else making the first move can be critical. Therefore, Jody urges people to reach out to their neighbors: “Any disability can be very isolating which is where I encourage community members – if you have a neighbor with a disability and you haven’t seen them in a while, check on them and commit to stopping by every once in awhile just to say hi. These connections are what count.” The community members of Tillamook County have shown their ability to step up for each other during a crisis, and as COVID-19 continues, let us all reflect on the power we each have in building these essential connections.
For more local health and wellness information, go to tillamookcountywellness.org, follow Tillamook County Wellness on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.