COVID-19, Oregon Politics, Politics, Yamhill County

A remarkable gift

When you write about food and drink, recurring topics will crop up out of necessity. This isn’t because a writer has nothing new to write about. On the contrary, there’s always a new restaurant, dish, brew or wine to be tasted and described. But certain characteristics of a community will frequently make guest appearances — local themes around which to craft stories. In Yamhill County, the most common characteristic from my food-and-beverage days was the area’s incredible sense of hospitality, the community’s unquestioning generosity of spirit, its willingness — indeed, its desire — to give.

All communities have certain groups who work to ensure their city’s image is a good one. But McMinnville has these people and this quality in spades.

I recall one of the first projects I worked on after moving here — it was some charitable event. I remember seeing a successful older local businessman working side-by-side with a single mother of modest means. This city father and this dedicated mother were working toward the same goal — two people from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum were joined in a common purpose to benefit someone who wasn’t them. I marveled at this sight then, so rare was such a pairing in my experience.

Since then, I have seen the same scene play out hundreds of times. And I’ve written about it probably dozens of times.

This community has a spirit of giving unlike any community I have ever witnessed. It’s really quite amazing. Since I’ve become a local, myself, now, I know we take a quiet pride in the way we step up when there’s a need, the way we don’t hesitate to offer what we can give when it’s needed. We’re proud not in a haughty way, but in that quietly confident manner earned from knowing we will do what’s needed when asked, every time.

Against the backdrop of this community spirit of giving, it’s fitting for one of the all-time great community gifts to have occurred right here in the Yamhill Valley. With no fanfare, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde presented the region with a fantastic act of generosity. When the tribe had completed administering COVID vaccinations to its members and the staff of its casino and hospitality ventures, it decided there was no reason to stop there.

So they offered free vaccination to anyone who wanted it.

After what was probably the craziest year of my lifetime, what a delightful breath of fresh air!

But the most remarkable aspect may have been the low-key manner in which the tribe gave their gift. As the Native people behind one of Oregon’s top tourist destinations, Spirit Mountain Casino, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is well-versed in the need to keep their gaming property in the minds of consumers, particularly as other tribes attempt to enter the Portland market. That’s why Spirit Mountain has sponsored highly visible events like the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade. But when the tribe could’ve generated a great deal of publicity for itself as it gave away vaccines, it chose to do so quietly, instead.

The reason was simple.

“It was the right thing to do,” said Sara Thompson, Communications Director for the tribe. “Vaccinations provide everyone with a rare opportunity to be proactive in our fight against COVID-19 and begin to heal.”

Fully staffed by qualified clinicians, the tribe’s vaccine clinics were organized to minimize lines, waiting and contact between people. Medical professionals were on hand to answer questions and follow-up appointments were scheduled on the first visit. As word-of-mouth and social media posts spread the tribe’s generosity, people from all over the region took advantage of the tribe’s incredible generosity. The Portland Trailblazers even received the tribe’s incredible gift!

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has long been a highly visible part of the state’s charitable landscape. If I remember correctly, the tribe held the top spot as Oregon’s biggest philanthropist for a number of sequential years, as early as the 1990s and 2000s. I had difficulty finding figures from this period to confirm my recollection but, according to Thompson, the tribe remains a big player among Oregon’s givers today. “The tribe is the largest tribal philanthropist in the state,” said Thompson. “We have always believed in continuing the Native tradition of potlatch, a ceremony where good fortune is shared and distributed.” Thompson explained the potlatch principal guides the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, which was founded in 1997. To date, the fund has donated over $85 million to Oregon non-profits.

Acknowledging the catastrophic damage caused when her people first encountered Europeans, Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy encouraged vaccination. “That’s the same kind of thing we’re facing now,” said Kennedy in a Facebook Livecast a week ago. “But we have an answer!”

Thompson said participants all have their own reasons for getting vaccinated. “Whether it’s the immune-compromised grocery store worker, the grandparents who want to hug their grandchildren or the spouse who wants to protect their partner who recently beat cancer, they all have their reasons,” she said. “Getting the vaccination allows them to breathe a little easier and take a step back towards normal.”

So far, the tribe has administered over 17,000 vaccinations, all free of charge.

I no longer write much about food or drink. But I will undoubtedly continue to write about life in this area and I will almost certainly mention again the spirit of giving that marks the local population as special. At the end of a crazy year of unprecedented political gutter fighting, unending wildfires and a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) pandemic, how grateful I am that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde offered us the gift of vaccination. It’s fitting that such an enormous gift given with such grace happened right here in the Yamhill Valley.

Photograph © Hakan German via Pixabay