Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – When the history of the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak is written, it will have to be noted that Arcata, its government, institutions, businesses and individuals mustered all available resources to care for the town’s houseless and most vulnerable.
In addition to two city-sponsored campgrounds with hygienic facilities, plus housing of elderly and disabled homeless people in motels, all of the above residents and more are receiving three nutritious meals a day prepared by a professional chef.
The monumental feeding effort, under which 270 meals per day are prepared, takes place at the Arcata House partnership (AHP) Annex, located across from the Intermodal Transit Facility, which also hosts one of the campgrounds.
Nick Kohl, owner and chef at Eureka’s Oberon Grill, runs the coronavirus-compliant kitchen. The Annex’s adjacent dining room and the storage lockers are presently stuffed with donations of food, many from restaurants closed for the crisis.
When the virus struck and shutdowns began, Kohl said he looked around and asked, “What can I do to help, with my skill set?” The answer was AHP, and on April 2, he set up shop at the Annex.
Darlene Spoor, AHP executive director, said that when Humboldt’s shelter-in-place order went out in late March, the organization “needed to figure out how to help people who didn’t have a place to shelter in place.”
Those who had survived by panhandling suddenly found the streets devoid of donors. AHP immediately opened its kitchen and found an instant demand for 200 meals per day, but lacked adequate personnel. On putting out the call for help, Kohl stepped up. “He came in, organized the kitchen and started serving,” Spoor said.
At this point, Kohl and crew are preparing daily meals for the 40 housed in tents, 32 clients at Arcata Bay crossing, 13 people in family shelters, 22 people housed in 18 motel rooms and 30 to 50 who use the Annex’s walk-up window. That window is open from 1 to 4 p.m. for the public, with earlier hours for assigned clients.
Breakfast consists of pre-made items, while lunch and dinner are freshly prepared. The cuisine is based on donations, but is supplemented with purchases to round out the meals. Selections last week included barbecued chicken and black beans, spaghetti, ham wraps, egg salad sandwiches and more.
Despite the volume of meals going out, AHP’s biggest need isn’t for food. Cash donations, which can be sent via arcatahouse.org or dropped off at 1005 11th St., are always welcome.
The most pressing need, though, is for clothing. AHP is to open a showering facility adjacent to the annex this week, and, said Spoor, “We’d like to give everyone a clean outfit.” Clothes may be dropped off at the Annex, 501 Ninth St. Laundry service is also coming available.
And even with all the outreach, Spoor said another 120 unhoused individuals in Arcata continue to operate outside the at-capacity protection system.
AHP isn’t going it alone in all this. Partners include the City of Arcata, the county Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Arcata Presbyterian Church, the Arcata First Methodist Church, Food Not Bombs and the Days Inn, plus volunteers. AHP’s volunteer coordinator may be reached at (707) 298-7610.
“We are so grateful for the public support,” Spoor said. “Heroes really do wear aprons.”