success story

Community First Washburn County: Mobilizing to Keep Residents Healthy

Community care during COVID

Washburn County agencies mobilize to keep residents healthy

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a statewide lockdown in March and April forced non-essential businesses to close, putting employees out of work and creating financial hardship for many of the nearly 16,000 residents of Washburn County in northwest Wisconsin. Businesses needed support, families needed food and residents needed to know they were not alone.

A nonprofit is created to lead the way

Representatives of the Washburn County Health and Human Services Department, Washburn County Mental Health Task Force, Lakeland Family Resource Center and Spooner Memorial Library collaborated to create an organization, Community First Washburn County, which eventually became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

The new organization raised money through grants, fundraisers and donations. A $10,000 grant from Marshfield Clinic kicked off the effort, with the funds used to buy toilet paper, cleaning supplies and games from the local businesses that had to shut down during the lockdown. The Spooner Memorial Library, also closed to the public, became the staging area to assemble care packages.

An “Outrun the Virus” fundraiser drew $40,000, including a $14,000 contribution from a local bank. The money helped establish a supplemental meal program, buying the meals from closed restaurants and delivering them to families in need. In addition, the Washburn County Highway Department provided locations for Farmers to Families food box distributions.

Collaboration keeps businesses afloat, families fed

From the economic hardships delivered by the nationwide health emergency came a coordinated, multifaceted response that helped local businesses continue operating and provided food to those who needed it.

  • More than 960 care packages were distributed
  • Twenty-four local businesses provided meals that fed 84 families, including 160 adults and 122 children
  • A total of 12,279 food boxes were distributed or delivered, with a total value of $468,345
  • In March 2021, the Washburn County Food Insecurity Summit was held online and more partnerships were built. New plans include creating community gardens, adding mini-food pantries, and working on ways to help newly released inmates with food needs

“Community First Washburn County was born out of a community’s cry for help at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything that Community First has accomplished highlights the great impact that collaboration, partnership and conversation can have on a community.”

- Angie Bodzislaw, Director, Spooner Memorial Library