By Laurelle Walsh

Now beginning its sixth year, the Community Roundtable – an informal gathering of local and regional social services providers – met at the Twisp Valley Grange last Friday (Sept. 13) after a three-month summer break.

Attended by organizational leaders and community volunteers alike, the Roundtable’s motto is “local solutions to local needs,” according to founder Glenn Schmekel. Schmekel said it’s valuable for social service providers to regularly meet and update one another on their work, their needs, and to publicize upcoming events.

“I started the Roundtable five years ago because there was a need, and the need is still there,” Schmekel said.

Twenty representatives and volunteers introduced themselves and shared news about their organizations: the Lookout Coalition, Senior Solutions, Okanogan County Department of Emergency Management, the Community Action Council, the Methow Valley Community Center, Aging and Adult Care, the Senior Center, Guardian Angels, Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors, Room One, Methow Valley United Methodist Church, The Cove, Women in Aviation, Twisp Valley Grange, Kiwanis, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and the Valley Teen Center.

Three attendees – Schmekel, Pastor Mike Lawson of Methow Valley United Methodist Church and volunteer Mary Ann Kirkland – reported that they had each participated in the weeklong SNAP Challenge, a national campaign started by the Food Research and Action Center to raise awareness of the challenges of living on food stamps.

“I’m failing miserably at it,” confessed Lawson, adding that on only $4.22 per day, “all the stuff that I’m used to eating put me over the top.”

“I fixated on food all week,” said Kirkland. “I was hungry all the time. It was very stressful.”

Schmekel and Lawson reported unloading a shipment of food for the first 17 weeks of the Friday Food Program, a program through the Methow Valley School District that distributes backpacks filled with nonperishable food to “get kids through the weekend,” Schmekel said. He added that last summer’s donation drive to find sponsors for 75 students “was a complete success.”

Friday’s featured Roundtable presenters, Room One client services specialists Erin Flahive and Lori Valentine, said that their office will provide support to residents enrolling in health insurance plans through the new state Health Benefit Exchange that begins Oct. 1 under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Flahive and Valentine are to be Room One’s “In-Person Assisters,” trained to help uninsured people determine which health insurance options best fit their needs, identify people who are eligible for reduced premiums, help people complete applications and support people with disabilities, language barriers or other special needs. Coverage under the new plans will begin Jan. 1.

Community Center board member Ted Willhite suggested holding a town hall-style meeting at the Methow Valley Community Center to share information on the new health insurance plans. Cove volunteer Kirkland suggested publishing information in the school district’s newsletter or having an outreach center at The Cove.

“One-on-one is the way you’ll get people to understand” the new health insurance options, Kirkland said.

Next month’s Community Roundtable will be held Friday, Oct. 11, at 10 a.m. at the Grange Hall, 344 W. Second Ave., Twisp. The featured topic will be local transportation issues. All are welcome. For more information call Schmekel at 997-4904.