Patrick with his potatoes

Patrick Thiel delivers his gourmet potatoes to the La Grande food bank.

What’s being called the “Great Potato Drive” is coming to the rescue of the area food bank distribution hub — Community Connection in La Grande — that reported being low on staples, including potatoes.

The hub serves 19 agencies in four counties, including Wallowa County, and it reported that demand for food assistance is up amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local organic farmer Patrick Thiel, of Prairie Creek Farm, normally markets to more than 35 high-end restaurants mostly in the Portland area. But those restaurants are now almost all closed, leaving few outlets besides our local grocers for this perishable produce.

Wallowa County Rotary Club members quickly directed a payment from its new Pandemic Relief Fund to buy 500 pounds of locally grown organic potatoes from Thiel for the food bank. The farm kicked into gear — washing, sorting, drying, bagging — and was able to personally deliver them to the food bank early Friday, April 3 — for the daily delivery runs.

Members of the Hurricane Creek Grange near Joseph have stepped up to sponsor this week’s potato delivery and pledges are coming in for the following week.

Stores in Wallowa County are figuring ways to protect customers and employees from infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joseph Hardware, for example, now has a walk-up window and MCrow Store and Tavern in Lostine is in the process of adding one, although customers can still come in for their groceries.

All merchants are doing their part in this fight by taking extra pains to clean and sanitize surfaces between in-store customers.

More and more folks are wearing homemade masks, because it’s a good way to prevent the spread of germs and slow the spread of virus when (not if, according to local health officials) it makes it to the county.

Central Copy, in Enterprise, is open and busy as ever. Wendy at Bee Charmed/Enterprise Flower Shop, also in Enterprise, is taking phoned-in floral orders and delivering these to your door herself.

Ruby Peak Naturals, in Enterprise, is open and has flour, rice, beans, local eggs, local meats and more, as does the Market Place Fresh Foods in Joseph. The Dollar Stretcher, in Enterprise, had plenty of stock in — even toilet paper.

Many stores will offer curbside deliver to those taking extra precautions which is also a good option if you’ve just come back to the county and want to make sure you didn’t bring anything with you.

Stores are trying to market online on websites or Facebook pages, but many still offer merchandise delivered or at the store.

Also, buying gift certificates for people to use later is a good way to keep cash flow to your favorite merchants. We still want to be able to shop there in a few months when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

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