OLYMPIA — As cleaning products and other staples for fighting the COVID-19 infection disappeared from store shelves in mid-March, Child Care Aware of Washington (CCAWA) recognized a pending supply crisis for child care providers. The non-profit took action, reaching out to suppliers to address immediate needs for items such as toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap and bleach. While they found willing vendors to fill their orders, few could meet the need to deliver across the state.

Enter the Washington Department of Commerce with a $120,000 emergency grant to help fund CCAWA’s plan for a data-driven approach to assessing and meeting the needs of some of the state’s 5,432 licensed child care centers and family child care centers child care providers through a bulk purchasing plan.

“Child care providers are on the front lines in this pandemic, and we are honored to support Child Care Aware of Washington’s innovative work to keep children and families safe,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “Getting much-needed supplies to those in need strengthens communities, especially in rural and remote areas, as we continue to stop the spread of COVID-19 while reopening our economy.”

An initial survey revealed that more than half of open centers and 67% of open family child care programs were concerned about access to supplies, finding it impossible to locate, much less afford, basic items they needed to meet sanitation requirements and basic needs.

“We continue to hear that providers can’t access adequate supplies three months into this crisis. And now with the required new cleaning requirements and lower enrollment affording the needed supplies is adding to the difficulty,” said Deeann Puffert, CEO of CCAWA. “Much thanks to the Department of Commerce for this amazing grant and for their commitment to assisting the child care providers in the state. I know this will mean a lot!”

With help from the Commerce grant, CCAWA will soon have delivered over $260,000 worth of supplies through nine regional distribution centers strategically located throughout the state to minimize travel, especially in remote rural areas. They continue to monitor overall and regional supply concerns weekly and target purchases to meet specific identified needs. Supplies are provided only to licensed child care centers and family child care centers that are open.

“These supplies made all the difference for me as it is impossible to go to 10 stores to get what I need after working for 10 hours,” wrote one provider. “As a family child care provider I need much more than the local grocery store allows because they only think of the needs of their customers as being for a small family.”

Even with more than 13,000 supplies purchased to date, significant need persists. In the week leading up the 4th of July holiday, CCAWA used some of the state funds to purchase more supplies which are being delivered over the next few weeks.

As one child care provider put it: “This (assistance) actually, for once, made me feel like I truly am essential.”