Food Assistance, Mental Health, Safe Celebrations–and Compassion–this Holiday Season

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

My family and I wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season! As you celebrate, albeit modified this year, I encourage you to take stock of the good things in your life and have compassion with yourself and others about the struggles.

This is the time of year when most schools and child care providers take a well-deserved and needed break. However, this can also mean children are missing meals they’d normally get through a school program or working parents are struggling to find child care, making the holiday season even more stressful. Whether you are an employer or a customer, please give our working parents a little extra grace and understanding this holiday season.

A special thanks to child care providers

This interim, I have worked extensively with child care providers as I’ve prepared to introduce the Fair Start for Kids Act 2.0, which will continue our fight to make child care more affordable and accessible, ensuring that every kid in Washington gets a fair start in life. It has truly been a marvel to watch as these dedicated child care providers have helped ensure our economy can keep running by making essential care available during the COVID-19 crisis, while operating with extra precautions for kids and families. I hope you will join me in thanking all the child care providers who have worked tirelessly to care for our children, support working parents and bolster our economy throughout the uncertainties of COVID-19. I look forward to continuing my work with parents, businesses, child care providers, and advocates from across the state to expand access to high-quality, affordable child care.

Addressing food insecurity in our state

During these holidays, many Washington families are hurting and need help. This can be especially tough on children who are missing the structure and regular meals that they are used to getting through school and child care programs. If your family or someone you know is struggling, please visit the Washington Coronavirus Response food assistance web page. In addition, here are a few links to local resources that can help with feeding your family this holiday season:

While the pandemic may not have created the issues of hunger, poverty and racial inequality in our state, it has made these realities starker and more urgent. For many, this year has brought the crisis of hunger for the first time. In fact, the Washington State Food Security Survey found that 30 percent of households were food insecure and almost 60 percent of those included children. In addition, people of color are 1.5 times more likely than white people to be food insecure.

This coming session, I will support measures to secure food access, a keystone to building a healthier, more equitable Washington. Even as we support existing efforts to fight hunger, we must explore new approaches to help address the changing landscape during the pandemic and address the systemic gaps that have left communities of color and tribal communities without adequate access or infrastructure to meet their nutritional needs.

Mental health during COVID and the holidays

While holiday traditions are what many of us look forward to throughout the year, it is normal to feel a profound sense of loss or sadness during this unfamiliar holiday season. With COVID-19 still reaching record levels throughout the state, and social distancing and online school already creating unprecedented social isolation, concerns about mental health are acute. Please remember to tend to your and your children’s mental health and reach out for help when needed. Please explore the Washington Department of Health (DOH) mental health resources or NAMI Eastside if you or your loved ones need a hand coping this holiday season.

Safe holidays during COVID-19

While it is difficult, the safest way to celebrate holidays this year is with the members of your household only. If you choose to celebrate in person with other friends or family, keep in mind that gatherings should be limited to outdoors unless everyone can follow the safety and quarantine requirements. In person gatherings increase the risk of COVID-19 infection, impacting not only you and your family but health care providers, first responders and others who are putting themselves in harm’s way to help others. Please follow the safer gatherings checklist to better protect yourself and any guests, including not sharing food and beverages, wearing masks and spreading out. In addition, DOH has curated a list of ways to connect with loved ones and be a little more together, even when apart this holiday season.

Thank you for masking up, staying socially distant and adding a needed dose of compassion in our communities this December.

Happy Holidays,

Tana Senn