Volunteers at the Yelm Community Services food bank served its clients on Sept. 2 in honor of Anita Haywood, the volunteer coordinator of the program, who died following complications of COVID-19 on Friday, Aug. 27.
Haywood, a staple of the center, was described as a kind-hearted woman who would go the extra mile to help others.
“She was a best friend, a confidant,” said Christina Stailey, a volunteer at the food bank. “We always used to joke around that we were each other’s therapists. We would walk together every morning and just talk about our lives and our days. We would help each other get through hard times. She was totally my best friend.”
Stailey said Haywood was a great event planner, coordinating breakfasts and other events at church.
“Event planning went along with her volunteering at the food bank,” Stailey said. “She was able to gather people from our church that we both attended and get them to come out and help volunteer.”
Carrie McMichael, the woman who stepped up to run the volunteers in Haywood’s absence the last couple of weeks, said Haywood helped her find solace from a world dominated by isolation.
“I started volunteering at the food bank starting at the beginning of the pandemic, and she quickly kind of took me under her wing and was one of the handful of people I saw during the pandemic, because we were quarantined quite a bit,” McMichael said. “She just became a really good friend during the pandemic.”
And Haywood ran the food bank’s volunteers with clear and loving direction, McMichael said.
“Anita was quick to tell you when you were right, and quick to tell you when you were wrong and needed to adjust, but she did it with compassion, kindness and love,” she said. “She was going to give it to you straight.”
But it’s the community Haywood created that she’ll be remembered for, McMichael said.
“She made it more than just a place to get food,” she said. “She made it a place to come and get that human connection, and have that moment of kindness or compassion, that moment of positive interaction that leaves you feeling good.”
McMichael called Haywood’s passing “surreal,” saying that since she took over for Haywood while she was sick, she kept expecting her friend to come and take the reins back, but knows that it is now impossible.
“We’ve been doing it without her for a couple of weeks and her presence was really missed because … she would make sure that everybody was taken care of,” she said. “She provided encouragement to the volunteers and direction. She would answer questions. She was very enthusiastic and she had a big personality, so she was definitely missed.”
Last week, the food bank clients were given the chance to sign cards of condolence. Some of the clients got emotional, which shows that Haywood was a friend to many, McMichael said.
Stailey said Haywood’s dedication to the food bank was well-received by the clients.
“I heard so many comments from people,” Stailey said. “Many comments from the recipients said, ‘We really appreciate you guys stepping up and doing this. You’ve made it run so well, so smoothly, especially during COVID when everything was hectic.’”
Such rave reviews, Stailey said, are all a credit to Haywood’s work.
“She would ponder and spend lots of time trying to figure out the best way, the smoothest way, not only to help the people receiving food, but the volunteers so that they, too, didn’t have a burden that they had to carry themselves,” Stailey said.
McMichael said Haywood became sick a couple weeks ago, but even in the face of COVID-19, her dedication to the food bank was still as strong as ever.
“We told her that we would be able to do it without her because she wasn’t feeling well,” McMichael said.
That kind of coordination happened just a few days before Stailey drove Haywood to the hospital.
“Even when she was hospitalized because of COVID, the next week she was still trying to organize us and make sure there would be enough volunteers at the food bank,” McMichael said. “She was texting us from the ICU. The food bank was always so present in her mind. She made a commitment and she was going to keep it. It was so important to her.”
McMichael said perhaps the best way for folks to honor Haywood’s passing is to go out and volunteer themselves, an act that was close to Haywood’s heart.
In the end, it’s Haywood’s kindness that has touched the lives of many, not the least of which was Stailey herself.
“Anita was always really kind,” Stailey said. “She was always helping others. She just had the ability to sense that something wasn’t going right and so she reached out. She was really great at that.”