Creativity and Community Collaboration in Moments of Crisis

Bob Bray of Dairy Distributing, Inc. — transporter of products for such brands as Edaleen Dairy, Smith Brothers Farms, Twin Brook Creamery and Sirena Gelato — reached out to his friend Doug Thomas, president and CEO of Bellingham Cold storage, in March 2020. He asked about borrowing a couple of insulated totes for a special project.

Bob needed the large insulated totes, which are usually used for holding flake ice and fresh salmon, to keep dairy products cold. His son Tyler, who is a very hard working and innovative young man, came up with the idea to ramp up a new home delivery service in response to the COVID-19 crisis, knowing that Washington state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order meant that some consumers would have reduced access to perishable food products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter.

Dairy Distributing’s team quickly transitioned from mostly commercial sales to a door-to-door delivery model — a format the company had started with in 1963.

Of course, Bellingham Cold Storage stepped in to help, providing Dairy Distributing with food-grade storage totes for their now much smaller truck deliveries.

“BCS has a long history of giving back to our community, and we fully support our friends and peers who help feed people locally and globally,” Thomas said. “Sharing our resources in this way was an easy thing to do.”

Sometimes, the giver becomes the recipient.

Bellingham Cold Storage is considered a critical infrastructure Industry and an essential food supply service provider. BCS employees have continued to work through the COVID-19 crisis because they play a critical role in feeding America — processing food and shipping cold and perishable products to grocery stores locally and across the nation.

As the COVID-19 virus continued to spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines and recommendations related to personal protective equipment for individuals at home and in the workplace.

Bellingham Cold Storage has always complied with industry regulations and continues to do so. Disposable sanitary facemasks have been commonplace in food processing environments; however, facemasks have not been a requirement in other warehouse areas to date.

To get ahead of the curve and to best protect staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, BCS leaders looked to the community for help providing reusable 100% cotton masks — recommended by the CDC — for all warehouse employees. Turns out they didn’t have to look too far for help.

Donated masks help protect BCS employees.

Martha Bray, Bob Bray’s wife, was working with a group of volunteers from her church who were making cotton masks and donating them to hospital workers and medical center employees in need of face masks all over Whatcom County.

The volunteers quickly produced and gifted BCS with more than 300 reusable masks — enough for every employee engaged in tasks that require closer contact with others.

“The masks started arriving quickly; volunteers started dropping off bags of fabric masks at our security gate throughout the day,” Thomas said. “Even the security guards were provided with 100% cotton masks to protect them during each of their 24/7 shifts.”

Upon arrival at Bellingham Cold Storage, the donated masks have been isolated and treated with ozone — a process that removes all germs, viruses and living organisms. BCS has used ozone, in addition to other sanitation best practices, to treat workspaces and employee clothing items — such as insulated freezer suits, coveralls, gloves and hats — since the start of the pandemic.

When citizens and businesses collaborate, great things happen.

“I would like to personally thank Martha Bray for coordinating the effort to supply BCS employees with fabric masks,” Thomas said. “These masks will help keep our staff healthy and well. The masks will help BCS continue to deliver food at a critical time in history.”

An offer to compensate the 20-plus sewing volunteers for their time and materials was quickly declined. Their gift, Bray said, was considered a labor of love.

As an alternative to payment, Doug Thomas shared a case of salmon he caught while on a fishing trip with his 83-year-old dad in Canada this past summer. That gift was gladly accepted.

Thomas is also planning to host a salmon barbecue for the mask-making volunteers and their families after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

In times of great crisis, it is good to see the many ways that businesses and individuals can collaborate and support each other.
There have been countless examples of creative thinking and community collaboration in Whatcom County throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. These collaborations may be the silver lining in this crisis.

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Eric Richards