Senior food program cancels in-person meals due to Inland Northwest gas outage

A map posted to Avista Utilities' website shows areas affected by the gas shutoff after a gas line rupture north of Pullman on Wednesday afternoon.



At Clarkston’s Valley Community Center, kitchen operations that would normally feed between 50 and 100 people on Thursday ground to a halt after a regional natural gas outage that made most of the kitchen unusable.

Chrystal Wiese is the site manager at the Senior Round Table Nutrition Program that operates out of the community center. Normally, Wiese said, the group holds in-person lunches three times a week.

“We have no gas in our kitchen. So that affects our stove and our convection oven,” she said. “We do have enough frozen meals and shelf stable meals that we are continuing to feed our homebound.”

Those frozen meals should last into next week, feeding around 80 homebound residents, Wiese said.

The rupture to the regional natural gas pipeline affected roughly 36,000 buildings in the Palouse and Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and surrounding communities, affecting everything from schools to homes.

Assisted living facilities were also affected. Staff at several said they had to adjust operations to keep residents fed until natural gas is restored in their kitchens.

Ashley Stephenson is the director of Generations at Lewiston.

“We’re cooking on griddles inside the houses to make sure the residents are getting what they need,” Stephenson said. “We’re going to outsource some easy oven meals that they can cook in the houses as well to make sure that their nutritional needs are met.”

Lucas Fowler is the administrator at Golden Girls and Living Springs residential care facilities in Lewiston. He said the two small facilities, with a combined 18 beds, rely on natural gas for most of their operations.

State law doesn’t allow space heaters at assisted living facilities, Fowler said, so he had to request an exception.

“The option really is, at this point, space heaters or no heat at all,” he said. “So, we just feel that one is more dangerous than the other. Going without heat for our aging clientele is not really an option.”

Space heaters are in short supply at area stores, Fowler said. The two facilities were able to get enough for everyone thanks to support from neighbors, friends and family.

“You can’t buy any ceramic heaters right now. So, between just heaters that we’re able to round up from the community and residents, and families bringing in personal heaters, we were able to get enough in the facility to keep everybody warm.”

Until the natural gas is restored, Fowler said staff are conducting regular fire checks and only using ceramic safe heaters that have tipping detectors. 

Local hospitals including Griman Medical Center in Moscow and Pullman Regional Hospital said they were continuing operations as normal and had heat in the main hospital buildings. Both reported some off-campus clinics were operating without heat, or using space heaters, as of Thursday afternoon.

“Our incident command team is meeting twice a day to evaluate safe patient care given the status of natural gas outage,” said Alison Weigley, director of external relations at Pullman Regional Hospital. “If any scheduled appointments are to be rescheduled, patients will be receiving a phone call.”