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Covelo Volunteer Fair seeks helpers for in-person events and services

Adults sit at tables in a park full of leafy green trees while children play. A yellow pop-up tent is in the background.
Volunteers chat up their neighbors while children play in the park outside the library in Covelo.

The food pantry, Friends of the Library, Municipal Advisory Council, and Blackberry Festival, are all seeking volunteers.

April 12, 2022 — With pandemic restrictions lifting and spring in the air, people are gathering again, planning events both recreational and civic-minded. In Covelo on Saturday, volunteers set up tables in the park outside the library to attract more helpers to their various causes and to drum up enthusiasm for upcoming events like the Big Time and the Blackberry Festival, both of which have been on hiatus for two years.

One organization that’s been more active during the pandemic is the food pantry, a program of the Round Valley Indian Health Center. Joel Merrifield, Sr, who is also a tribal councilman, was on the lookout for volunteers to help prepare and distribute the food, and even deliver it to people living off-grid, way out of town. Merrifield estimated that before the pandemic, the food pantry served about 100 families a month, but that in the last two or three years, the number has risen to about 150. “Some people feel like they’re taking away from somebody, but we help break the stigma,” he said. The food pantry moved to the Round Valley Indian Tribe’s Health and Safety complex at 76300 Grange Street in downtown Covelo about 15 months ago.

Another organization with a big presence in town is Friends of the Library, represented Saturday by librarian Pat Sobrero. The Friends provide funding for materials and programs, and serve as an umbrella for the Blackberry Festival and local radio station KYBU. “They also own this whole property where the Farmers Market holds their market every Friday afternoon,” she said. “So they do a lot of things for the community.” She added that, “The Friends are largely a fundraising operation that hasn’t done any fundraising for the last two years. So pretty soon, they’ll be starting their fundraising opportunities, and we’re looking for volunteers to help with that.”

Charles Sargenti, the presiding officer of the Municipal Advisory Council, was trying to rustle up some interest in local politics. “Our primary function is to advise our supervisor, John Haschak, on issues affecting the valley,” he said; “but we like to do more than that. We like to be a place where residents can come together and talk about issues that are bothering them and brainstorm and try to come up with things to do about them.” The big knotty issue the council is thinking about right now is a water system for the unincorporated town of Covelo, which has sewer service but not water. Without a water system, it’s hard for businesses to rebuild after the fires, because there are no hydrants, no sprinklers, and not enough pressure to make the infrastructure effective if it were available. “So that’s something that I’m really excited about,” Sargenti concluded.

The next meeting, at 6 pm on May 4, will be a hybrid in-person zoom affair. Sargenti thinks the pandemic-induced reliance on zoom has had the benefit of allowing people, including representatives of far-away agencies, to attend meetings in a location that has always been remote.

But other volunteer-seekers were focused on bringing people together in person for a beloved summer festival behind the flour mill, which has been quiet for the last two years. Marylou Milek was manning a booth for the Round Valley Blackberry Festival, which will be celebrating its 39th year on August 20-21. “We skipped two years, but we counted one of them, because we had a virtual Blackberry Festival on our local radio station, KYBU,” she recalled.

Lew Chichester, a de facto representative of most of the above-mentioned organizations, stepped into the local KYBU radio station to share a plug for another much-anticipated in-person event. The local Big Time, organized by Round Valley High School students, is also back after two years of loneliness and covid. Chichester listed the stick games, Native dancers, inspirational and comedic speakers, booths, and food that will be at the high school campus on Friday, April 15, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. It is worth the drive, he assured an out-of-towner, adding that, “It’s inspirational, it’s wonderful, it gives me, every once a while, the realization that this is actually a really exciting and cool place to live.”

Local News
Sarah Reith is the lead reporter for KZYX News. She joined the KZYX News team in 2017, and covers local politics, water, law enforcement and the arts in Mendocino County.