Meeting the Challenge

The Orcas Island Community Foundation (OICF) has released Meeting the Challenge, a report that explores the community response to the COVID pandemic in the Spring of 2020. In considering the various steps that were taken, both before and after the formal declaration of a global pandemic in March 2020, the report provides useful information and lessons to help guide planning for future challenges. It describes what went well in the response, what might have gone better, and what lessons have been learned along the way. The report concludes that the overall effort was remarkably successful in assuring that the island’s social safety net provided necessary support to those whose lives had been most dramatically disrupted by the pandemic. The full report is available here or by going to

From the beginning, other core social service organizations, including the Orcas Community Resource Center, Orcas Senior Center, Orcas Island Food Bank and OPAL Community Land Trust, joined forces with OICF. Together they assessed the critical needs of our island community and how their own operations could be reconfigured and expanded in order to respond capably to the enormous challenges of the pandemic.

The following points summarize the key observations and findings that are discussed in the


● Planning and preparation prior to the emergence of Covid provided a robust platform for

an effective response to the challenges that arose. These efforts included the

strengthening of internal operations at the OICF and other non-profits, as well as

collaborative work on the part of OICF to support and strengthen the island’s core social

service organizations, particularly the Community Resource Center, Senior Center, and


● Well established relationships, mutual trust, and seasoned leadership of the island’s core

social service organizations were an essential factor in the success of the response.

● The generosity of the more than 850 individuals, families and organizations that donated

over $2.7 million to the Community Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is truly

remarkable. This impressive level of giving allowed for the vigorous response to the

needs of the time.

● Widespread lines of communication and the inclusion of numerous stakeholders,

combined with the capacity to make decisions and act quickly, all contributed to the

overall success of the response.

● The role of OICF in securing and providing direct funding in the early days of the

pandemic was especially advantageous in allowing each of the island’s core social

service organizations to focus on providing necessary services.

● Establishing the capacity to act quickly through the creation of the CERF and the CERF

Advisory Committee elicited an appropriate response from the OICF Board to assure

that effective financial and programmatic safeguards were in place to assess funding

requests and proposals.

● While there were challenges and differences in approach that arose in the relationship

between the Community Foundation and San Juan County Government, there also

seems to be an interest and willingness on the part of both parties to find ways to

coordinate their efforts effectively and build better mutual trust.

● In crisis situations such as that created by the emergence of the pandemic, there is a

need to acknowledge the stress and overwhelming demands of the emergency. At times,

the pressure and duration of responding to the challenges presented by Covid led to

those most deeply involved becoming overextended and at risk of experiencing burnout.

People on Orcas Island and throughout the San Juan Islands can look back and appreciate how remarkably the community came together and rose to the challenge. Despite having a high at-risk population, with 35% of the County’s residents aged 65 or older, there were, as of March 2022, just two Covid-related deaths and approximately 1,225 total reported cases in San Juan County. In early 2022, the San Juan County Health Department reported that nearly 90% of county residents had been fully vaccinated. At the time, these numbers were among the best in the entire country.

OICF is grateful to the hundreds of donors,volunteers, staff, and businesses who provided critical support when it was needed most. Thank you.