When a Little Goes a Long Way

While it’s true $10,000 doesn’t buy what it used to, sometimes it buys just enough – especially when it’s an unexpected gift in the midst of a pandemic.

In March 2020, as COVID-19 brought the nation to a halt, The Ford Family Foundation gave a $10,000 grant to nonprofit Rural Klamath Connects. The group acts as a “communication hub” for five small agricultural communities in southern Klamath County and northern California – Bonanza, Butte Valley-Dorris, Malin, Merrill and Tulelake.

The grant money helped people in small ways that made a big difference.

For one person, it was help paying an electric bill. For another, a car payment and for yet another, the payment on the storage unit she calls home. Nearby in California, the money paid for a new freezer for the Tulelake Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels program. Prior to the pandemic, the program sent meals to about 16 people over a 60-mile radius. That number more than quadrupled after the pandemic began.

(photo: Klamath Falls Herald and News)
Tater Patch Quilts owners Diane McKoen (left) and Robin King (right)

“It was a lifesaver for us,” said Kelly Harris, director of the senior center. “It allowed us to hold more capacity so we could help more people.”

But perhaps the biggest impact in the community followed a phone call from Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office to a fabric shop in Merrill, Oregon, called Tater Patch Quilts. The senator’s assistant wanted to know if Tater Patch could do some manufacturing. Shop co-owner Diane McKoen said they couldn’t mass produce masks, but they could sell the fabric to make masks. And so, the little quilting store was dubbed an essential service. People of all ages, from local organizations and church groups, stepped up to offer their sewing skills. And thanks to some financial help from Rural Klamath Connects, Tater Patch was ready with the materials.

The masks they made went out to people in nearby communities and to the hospital in Klamath Falls for essential workers, patients and guests.

“Honestly, we have no idea how many masks we handed out to the community,” said McKoen. “It was in the thousands. A lot of Hispanic people who were working would come in and get masks for themselves and their families. They didn’t speak English, but we knew exactly what they needed. They offered to pay but we said ‘no.’ You could tell emotionally they were moved. It was heartwarming.”