LA GRANDE — The homebound of La Grande may be shut in, but they are not being shut out during the COVID-19 crisis.
A La Grande neighborhood watch group is doing its best to make sure these community members are not neglected. The volunteers are striving to keep the lives of the homebound rolling in a positive direction during the COVID-19 crisis by delivering not only food but also smiles.
"Our mission is to love our neighbors," said Spring Roberts of La Grande, the founder of the #LaGrandeStrong Coronavirus Neighborhood Watch.
The neighborhood watch was created around mid-March and has grown to about 1,500 members in Union County, about 1,400 of whom are from La Grande. All have been directed to strictly follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
"Our slogan is Spread Kindness, Not Virus," Roberts said.
The watch is part of the broader organization La Grande Strong, which Roberts also started.
Members of the La Grande neighborhood watch are concerned not only with the virus as well as others ways of protecting their neighbors. They are on the lookout for suspicious people, especially those who appear to be targeting vulnerable community members.
Roberts is focused on the well-being of those at risk. She monitors those most vulnerable to COVID-19 — seniors and individuals with pre-existing conditions, to make sure they are getting groceries and other supplies they need.
Jordan Hovingh and daughter Ella are afraid to venture out because of a genetic condition that compromises their immune systems. Roberts delivers groceries to them each week, placing the food on their doorstep. They bring it inside after sanitizing it.
"We are so thankful," Hovingh said following a delivery.
Union County Public Health Administrator Carrie Brogoitti said groups such as La Grande Strong provide a vital function during the pandemic.
"We know that there are certain groups that are at greater risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19, and as we learn more about the disease we believe that people do face risks when they are interacting with other people or going to public places," she explained. "As a result, having someone volunteering to pick up things for this group can minimize risk for these individuals and reduce the number of possible infection points."
These services offer at-risk individuals control from exposure.
"This is certainly valuable to community health as it can reduce disease rates and transmission," Brogoitti said. "We won’t probably know how it impacted the spread, but we can assume it did."
The neighborhood watch group has also helped La Grande families in need of food because of financial problems by delivering cars filled with food.
"The outpouring was incredible," Roberts said.
She said families provide very heartfelt thanks.
"The appreciation is huge," Roberts said.
Neighborhood watch members found out about the families through the La Grande Strong Facebook site, which links to a page filled with reports of local random acts of kindness.
"We want to bring great acts of kindness to light," Roberts said.
La Grande Strong’s neighborhood watch and acts of kindness Facebook pages are places where everyone in La Grande can connect.
"We have created an instant community for people," said Roberts, who said she has received enormous help from her husband, Darwin.
The owner of Le Bebe Cakes Coffee Shop and Bakery in La Grande, Roberts also is involved in community service activities outside of La Grande Strong. For example, she is one of the leaders of Kids Immediate Dinner Solutions, which is delivering free dinners to all youths age 12 and younger in Union County in April.
Roberts said reaching out to others is a joy for her and helps her deal with the anxiety everyone is facing during the COVID-19 crisis.
Helping "is an antidote to help me cope," Roberts said.
She said she wants the new neighborhood watch to remain in place long after the COVID-19 crisis passes.
"Absolutely, we want to use it as a tool in the future," Roberts said.