Five leaders in Vashon’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been selected to serve as grand marshals of the 2021 Strawberry Festival Parade. But in interviews, the honorees were quick to credit the broader community for its help — with one grand marshal suggesting that the parade needed a convertible capable of holding hundreds of grand marshals.
“We are just stand-ins for the incredible army of volunteers that showed up day after day for 15 months to keep Vashon safe,” said Dr. Jim Bristow, co-coordinator of Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), who is one of the honorees. “And significant motivating forces for that army were the willingness of the Vashon community to listen to our advice (even as it changed), and the gratitude shown to volunteers throughout the pandemic. It reminded us all that a community is more than where you live.”
Along with Bristow, the other grand marshals are Vicky de Monterey Richoux, president of VashonBePrepared; Rick Wallace, the organization’s vice-president as well as the manager of Vashon’s Emergency Operations Center; Tyler Young, owner of Vashon Pharmacy; and Jan Milligan, manager of Vashon’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Bristow was instrumental in establishing Vashon’s COVID testing site. Throughout the past 15 months, he and other members of the MRC also advised businesses, local agencies and the public, and also conducted highly effective local contact tracing efforts that disrupted the spread of the virus, particularly during the huge spike that endangered the community last November.
De Monterey Richoux, among many other duties, led VashonBePrepared through the process of obtaining, to date, $291,000 through King County’s Office of Emergency Management (KCOEM) to recoup many of Vashon’s COVID Relief Fund’s 2020 payouts. An additional $28,000, she said, was reimbursed from FEMA with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s help. As of July 2021, the relief fund — which was also continually boosted by community donations — had distributed close to $535,000 to local agencies in supporting food, housing and economic recovery on the island.
Still, de Monterey Richoux said her efforts were not greater than those of many others on Vashon.
“I’m one of the hundreds of people in the background who haven’t gotten their pictures in the paper,” she said, making sure to single out employees and volunteers who work for Vashon’s social service agencies, and those who went door-to-door and arm-to-arm for Vashon’s Vax Access program.
Wallace — a storied community volunteer who in 2018 was also selected as grand marshal of the parade — coordinated communication, logistics, and strategic planning on multiple fronts of VashonBePrepared’s response to COVID-19.
As the owner of Vashon Pharmacy, Young found himself at the forefront of a public health crisis from the start — first helping to set up Vashon’s COVID testing site and months later, opening VashonBePrepared’s vaccination site in partnership with the MRC, CERT and the EOC.
Milligan, for the past seven years, has contributed her time, expertise and passion to managing CERT volunteers. In 2020 and 2021, those volunteers showed up rain or shine to assist at the testing and vaccination sites.
According to Young, the vaccination site at Vashon Pharmacy would not have been possible without support from CERT and other volunteers.
“I supplied the gasoline, but they brought the car,” said Young.
Milligan agreed that the 80-plus members of the CERT team had shown incredible dedication in their task of directing parking and traffic and patient check-in at both the testing and vaccination sites.
“We couldn’t get most of the volunteers to step down and take a break,” she said. “Some went for extra yardage and so many went extra miles.”
Wallace name-checked still more organizations that pivoted to meet the pandemic’s challenges: Sea Mar Clinic, Vashon’s Food Bank, the school district’s nutrition program, Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness, Vashon’s Senior Center, Voice of Vashon, Vashon’s Chamber of Commerce and many others — not to mention the more than 350 local donors to the Vashon COVID Relief Fund.
Young said that none of the heroic efforts made by islanders should ever be taken for granted.
“It was a huge commitment,” he said. “The incredible thing was that people all over the island came together for the greater good.”
A look at only some of the numbers showed the community-wide effort paid off.
According to the data dashboard at Public Health-Seattle King County (PHSKC) Vashon experienced 11.2 cases per 1,000 residents, compared to the county-wide case rate of 49.6 per 1,000.
Vashon’s vaccination rate also stands out. According to PHSKC data, 91.9% of island residents 12 and older have received at least one dose, compared to the county average of 80.2%. Vashon’s rate for those who are fully vaccinated is 81.8%, compared to the county average of 74.3%.
Throughout the pandemic, volunteers contributed more than 31,5000 hours to VashonBePrepared’s efforts alone — with these numbers not counting hours contributed by island social service, economic partners and CERT volunteers who are tracked in separate systems.
Hailing the work of the five grand marshals, Vashon Chamber of Commerce president Cheryl Lubbert also said their work had been aided by countless others — but that in choosing five grand marshals the Chamber had chosen extraordinary community leaders.
“We are so lucky to live in a place where we have a collective of people who care so deeply about each other and work together to make a real difference in people’s lives,” Lubbert said.