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Together Wenatchee: ‘One of most fulfilling projects of my life’

By on July 26, 2021 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Kyle Eberth, associate area director for NCW Young Life, and a friend stop by a taco truck on Mission Street in Wenatchee and pose for a selfie to show they’re supporting local.

Story and photos

by Dominick Bonny

In the spring of 2020 it felt like uncertainty and fear were running rampant, and society was falling apart.

COVID-19 had made its way to the U.S., cases were rising unchecked and we in Washington went into lockdown. It was a decision that carried with it the threat of extinction for many small locally-owned businesses.

In the Wenatchee Valley, like many communities across the U.S., locally-owned businesses help make our towns vibrant and unique. You can find a Chili’s or McDonald’s in nearly every town in America, but there’s only one Lemolo or Garlini’s or Sweetwood BBQ. 

So I, like so many at the time, felt powerless, isolated and afraid for the future of my family, my community and my country.

I wanted to do something proactive and something positive. I just wanted to do something, anything to make myself feel better.

As fate would have it I would get that opportunity.

Dominick took and posted a photo of the braised beef ramen and lemon boba drink at Tiki Hawaiian Barbeque in Wenatchee to help promote the new business Yaojie Zhou and his wife Sun opened just weeks after the COVID-19 shutdowns.

In early April, I got a call from an East Wenatchee woman named Lacy Stockton. She and her partner Hassan had the idea to create a local alternative to Amazon, so that folks could support local businesses from the comfort and safety of their homes during quarantine.

They had come up with a name and already had a logo designed. They were calling it “Together Wenatchee” and I thought it was an excellent idea. I asked how I could help.

Lacy and Hassan said they had the web design and management covered, but could use help with social media and asked if I would be willing to establish and manage that side of things.

After speaking with my wife, Kathryn, we agreed and went about setting up an Instagram account, a Facebook page and a Facebook group using the same logo and branding as the website.

We didn’t know what to expect, but we had outlined a clear mission for ourselves.

Our goal was to help locals support local businesses using online resources to connect the two, as well as provide a safe and reliable space for community members to communicate and support one another while making a space for reliable COVID-related information.

There were plenty of other resources popping up, from Facebook groups to local media outlets thinking outside the box in efforts to recoup lost advertising revenue.

But from the beginning I wanted this group to be different.

I wanted the standards of conduct to be higher than what social media users are accustomed to from local media Facebook pages. There, trolls and bullies pick fights and run roughshod over anyone who disagrees with them, effectively shutting down any and all interactions other than the most toxic. 

So with those principles in place, a small team of administrators set about providing that safe space and sharing information about what local businesses were still open, if and how they were transitioning to online ordering and curbside pickup and what their specials were.

We also put our money where our mouths were, and my expanding waistband throughout 2020 could attest to that.

Kat and I decided that since we had the ability to work from home and still earn income, that we would get takeout at least once a week and take high-quality photos of our meals then share the photos, tag the businesses in the post in the group and social media accounts and let others know how they could support those businesses.

In addition, moderators from the group started doing one-on-one video chats with business owners to help local folks know how they were faring through the economic crisis and how they were transitioning their products and services and how the community could support them.

For some businesses, it was as simple as setting up online ordering and figuring out how to make curbside and delivery work.

For others, like Janice Barnes of Tranquility Day Spa, COVID restrictions meant a complete shutdown that left her scrambling to make and offer products that local consumers needed, like hand sanitizer.

Some business owners, like Yaojie Zhou and his wife Sun had opened Tiki Hawaiian Barbeque just weeks before the shutdown, which made the already stressful reality of opening a new restaurant into a project that felt doomed to fail.

It didn’t though, and I would like to think that taking and posting some well-timed high-quality photos of some of their dishes and helping them spread the word through social media helped. 

In the year and a half since, the Together Wenatchee Facebook group has taken on a life of its own.

It has become much more than a place to see what businesses are offering specials, or get a recommendation for a good lawn care company. It has become a place where people offer each other support and comfort in emergencies, most recently during the Red Apple Fire this July.

Folks took to the group to offer transport, support and shelter for those affected by that wildfire as well as their livestock and pets. Others used the group to gather donations and funds to support our neighbors to the north who were threatened by the Nespelem fire on the Colville Reservation. 

As I was preparing to write this piece, I decided to ask members of the group what Together Wenatchee meant to them. Here are a few answers: 

n “It brought me a sense of true community at a time I felt isolated.” — Shelley Gingrich

n “I was new to Wenatchee and then COVID hit, being in this group helped me feel connected and helped me become familiar with local resources and community activities.” — Sandra Villarreal

n “I enjoy the thought of spending money locally rather than online. Even through hard times it seems like this website really helped get the word out there when businesses are open and how they were functioning. I absolutely love the feel of this site bringing community together.” — Amber Zacher

n “We really liked getting the word out about vaccines and how we were able to help people sign up and get their appointments. We have found this group to be very comforting in time of need and the way the community comes TOGETHER to help others, including your little family.” — Heather Flowers

What started as an anxiety-induced desire to make myself and others feel better and more connected during a time of extreme stress and uncertainty has turned into one of the most fulfilling projects of my life so far.

For that, I want to thank everyone who has been a part of what I like to think of as a movement to bring radical compassion and increased tolerance, understanding and cooperation to this valley. 

Check us out at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/togetherwenatchee. 

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