Helping Hands

When the going gets tough, Tahoe gets going


Residents of the greater Tahoe/Truckee area are known to take care of their own. When a neighbor is in need, community members rally to help out in whatever ways they can, whether it be through physical acts of kindness or donating to someone’s GoFundMe. And in this time when the entire world is facing a crisis head-on, Tahoeites have come through once again in all their selfless glory.

Although we’re all generally confined to our homes, the outpouring of support for others in this time of need has been nothing short of astounding. Folks of all races, ages, creeds, and demographics have joined to help others as we face the socioeconomic effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Lest we forget: We’re all in this together.

Moonshine Ink is proud to share with our readers just a small sampling of the ways people have come together to lend a helping hand. And since we’re certain that there are many more examples of selfless acts out there, we encourage you to share your stories with us by emailing


Oh, social media. So helpful yet so hurtful at the same time. Unless you’re sparring viciously about whether out-of-towners should be allowed to come to their vacation homes or short-term rentals, during the coronavirus health crisis, regional social media pages like the Truckee Tahoe People group on Facebook have been a useful tool when it comes to facing this worldwide pandemic. 

SPEEDY DELIVERY: People of all ages answered the call to send some messages of cheer to seniors and those who might be alone during the stay-at-home mandate. Courtesy photo

As stay-at-home mandates began to go into effect in March, forcing the closure of businesses of all types, countless people turned to Truckee Tahoe People to ask how they could help others in need. During these times, “need” can be defined in any which way you can imagine: donations of food, time, or money; rental assistance; personal protective equipment; or even sending cards filled with cheer to those who might be alone.

Former TTP administrator Amie Quirarte took note and found a way to connect all of the folks looking to help out, working under the umbrella of Truckee Tahoe People’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit extension: Emergency Relief – Tahoe/Truckee Covid-19 on Facebook.

“I am absolutely blown away by the community and their willingness to rise to the occasion,” Quirarte told Moonshine Ink in an email. “I have witnessed so much selflessness, genuine compassion, and true love for absolute strangers. Although it feels like my heart is breaking on a daily basis [for those in need], watching our group brings it back to fullness.”

Quirarte continued, explaining there is a broad spectrum of ways people are looking to help, ranging from shopping and delivering groceries (and paying for them with their own money) to monetary donations to ordering material for goody bags. The group so far has delivered 100 bags to hospital workers, 65 to senior citizens, and another 100 to grocery store workers. Volunteers assemble and deliver the bags, while children draw pictures to accompany them. In one single day, the nonprofit paid rent for six families in need, delivered groceries to four different families, and gave the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe money to serve curbside dinners.

“There will never be enough words to express my gratitude and my appreciation for what you’ve done,” Quirarte wrote to her TTP community. “Not just in the sense of giving, helping, and donating, but more importantly, for restoring my faith in humanity. More often than not, people are scary when they’re scared. But not you. You have shown fierce bravery and selflessness when people needed you the most. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I continuously remind myself that in moments of hardship, we must always find the light. And if we can’t find the light, we must create it. You have created it. Please don’t ever stop being the light.”

The economic effects of mandated business closures are far-reaching. If you’re struggling to put food on the table for the humans in your household, you might also be worrying about how you’re going to feed your furry family members.

PETPOURRI: The Pet Pantry at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe is fully stocked with a variety of dog and cat food for those who might be having a hard time putting food on the table and in the bowl. Courtesy photo

The Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe’s Pet Pantry exists for this very reason, and the shelter has now partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe to distribute pet food to families enrolled in their food assistance program. They will also be initiating a delivery service, accessible for sign up on the HSTT website. Distribution drop-off times are also in the works for the senior centers in Truckee and Sierra County and Bread and Broth in South Lake Tahoe.

A nonprofit with a mission near and dear to the hearts of many area residents, HSTT has brought joy to the lives of countless folks who’ve adopted dogs, cats, and other critters. But it is not unusual for pet surrender rates to go up in times of financial crisis, when people can sometimes be faced with the choice of feeding themselves or their pets. HSTT and Town of Truckee Animal Services want to keep as many pets in homes as possible during these uncertain times.

“In our animal-loving area, the decision to rehome a pet is heartbreaking and sad,” said Erin Ellis, director of community engagement. “HSTT is here to help pet owners through that selfless process by providing medical care, healthy food, and a safe, warm place to live for every pet that comes our way. The Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe needs your financial support to prepare to help our community caringly rehome their pets when necessary.”

The Truckee Town Council voted March 25 in favor of assisting the Pet Pantry program with a $5,000 donation. For a bit of perspective, that much money could feed 55 dogs or 150 cats for an entire month.

“We are beside ourselves by the support our community has shown us and continues to show us during this very difficult time,” Ellis said.

As countless other businesses and organizations have had to do at this time, HSTT has temporarily closed its doors to the public, but before doing so was able to clear the shelter of all its four-legged guests.

“We cleared the shelter in less than a week (both adoptions and foster homes),” Ellis said explaining that should any animals come in during the closure period, there are 70 foster homes ready at a moment’s notice. “This challenging time has given us the opportunity to learn how to operate in different ways to continue our life-saving mission at HSTT. It’s incredible to see how our little community has stepped up to help both people and pets in need.”

If you are experiencing financial hardship, drop by the Truckee Animal Shelter or the South Lake Tahoe location to pick up free pet food. Truckee food pick-up is available every day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 10961 Stevens Lane. South Lake Tahoe food pick-up is available at 3438 South Lake Blvd. Wednesdays through Fridays, noon to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

For those looking to help, both monetary and Pet Pantry donations are crucially needed. Norcal Nature’s Select is donating $3 to HSTT for every 30-ound bag at HSTT is collecting donations of unopened, unexpired pet food and cat litter. You can also donate directly to the Pet Pantry or make a donation by shopping the Amazon Wish List using Amazon Smile. Just remember to choose Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe Inc. as your chosen nonprofit.

HSTT is having an emergency Giving Tuesday on May, when the shelter will have $20,000 in matching funds available and everyone who makes a $300 tax-deductible contribution will be entered to win a $500 VISA gift card. Anyone who gives up to $300 to a qualified 501(c)(3) charitable organization, including HSTT, can get an easy tax break. Under the CARES Act, taxpayers can now take a deduction for up to $300 in charitable contributions if they don’t itemize on their 2020 tax form.

The line of cars in wait more resembled those stretching the length of an In-N-Out drive-thru lane than what is typical for the relatively quiet River Park Place in Truckee. But the folks lined up weren’t waiting to get their hands on a juicy burger. No, they were there to grab themselves a couple of what became an overnight hot commodity: bottles of hand sanitizer.

Drive Thru: Old Trestle Distillery has gone from whiskey barrels to gallon jugs, taking a hiatus from crafting distilled spirits in favor of mixing up batches of hand sanitizer. They’re distributing smaller travel-sized bottles for free outside the Truckee distillery’s River Park Place location on Fridays from noon to 1 p.m. Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

“Thanks for doing this,” a woman says with a smile as she reaches out the driver’s side window and grabs two bottles of the sanitizer off a table. She, as did numerous others, offered a donation in exchange for the cherished packaged goods, which was graciously declined by those manning the stand. The bottles were free with the condition that each car only take two.

Just off the road sits Old Trestle Distillery. Inside, the subtle fragrance of whiskey hangs in the air and barrels filled with various spirits are stacked to the ceiling. But since the effects of the novel coronavirus started to creep across the country, Old Trestle has halted production of its signature gin, vodka, and whiskey, and all efforts have focused on whipping up batches of hand sanitizer.

“Once the World Health Organization stepped in with its recommendations as far as ingredients percentage, dosing, that kind of a thing, then that kind of opened the door for us to start looking into this,” master distiller Jake Holshue told Moonshine Ink. “We are not a manufacturer of chemical products, we’re a food and beverage manufacturer, so they had to relax some rules as far as who could produce this.”

With over 2,000 producers of craft spirits in the U.S., Holshue, who is on the board of directors of the American Craft Spirits Association, said there are many producers who are able to help the communities they serve. The goal is to ensure that it is done in a manner that keeps everyone safe and healthy.

“It started with the obvious need in the community, when you read all the articles about a rush on hand sanitizer and people hoarding, etc.,” Old Trestle owner Andy Barr explained.

With empty shelves in stores far and wide, people had turned to playing mixologist at home and making their own hand sanitizer concoctions using recipes found online.

“First and foremost, don’t do that. Please, don’t do that,” Holshue said with a laugh, but at the same time intending it as a plea to people to not make their own homebrew.

Old Trestle’s sanitizer is made with the purest form of ingredients, starting with neutral grain spirit, which is the base for the distillery’s spirits. At 96% alcohol, 193 proof, it’s as clean and pure as you can get with no additives. “This isn’t hillbilly moonshine,” Holshue joked. It also contains glycerin, which helps the skin, and hydrogen peroxide, which denatures bacteria and viruses.

Another big difference: “We have the scientific equipment to scientifically measure the percentage of alcohol, which most people don’t have at home,” Holshue said. “This is kind of in our wheelhouse.”

At first, they weren’t sure how much to make, said Barr, but they soon realized the demand was pretty high. Through word of mouth and social media exposure, they’ve gotten requests from all over California. On April 8, Mountain Lion Aviation partnered with Truckee Tahoe Airport to deliver 150 gallons to the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Police Officer Association. But the focus remains local, with gallon-size jugs being distributed to first responders and those on the medical front line. And it’s all being given away for free.

“We’re not charging a dime for this. We don’t want a dime for this,” Holshue said.

So far, they’ve held three drive-thru distributions for the public. How long production goes on depends how long the need remains.

“This is just a — hopefully — a very temporary retargeting,” Barr said. “Needs say that we have to do this for now, so that’s what we’re doing.”

Now, if only they could make toilet paper …

For those looking to lend a hand in one way or another during this worldwide crisis, social media has proven to be a most useful tool. But there’s a group of folks with a particular skillset that are making use of a more conventional tool: the sewing machine.

MASK MAKER, MAKE ME A MASK: Tahoe Forest Hospital Extended Care Center nurse Tess Malvar-Hallmark heard of the need for masks at a Washington State hospital where her coworker’s son-in-law is a physician assistant. A newbie to the needle, she teamed up with her sewing-machine-skilled mother to make masks to send to him, but friends far and wide are keeping the duo busy with requests for masks of their own. Courtesy photo

As word spread about shortages of medical supplies far and wide, seamstresses the world over took to social media pages to find out who was in need of masks, sharing patterns, searching for materials, and recruiting others to start churning out homemade face masks. And while they might not be medical grade, the Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines for those looking to get to work making them.“Spread the word, not the virus. Cover your face,” is the slogan of Seamstresses for Safety, a Facebook page started by Incline Village resident Toree Warfield. Word of her mission has indeed spread, with people posting on pages like Truckee Tahoe People queries seeking masks being referred to Warfield.

While Warfield is donating her time to make masks for those in need, a $5 donation is helpful to offset the cost of materials. And now that the CDC has reversed its course and is recommending everyone wear a mask — medical grade or otherwise — whenever they go out, Warfield could use a few more hands at work. (Those seeking masks or wanting to help out, she said, can reach her via the Seamstresses for Safety Facebook page or directly at (775) 772-9452.)

“I can only make seven masks per hour,” Warfield to Moonshine Ink. “I might be getting a little faster…”

Tess Malvar-Hallmark is a nurse at the Tahoe Forest Hospital Extended Care Center. When she heard that a coworker’s son-in-law said there was a great need for masks at the hospital at which he’s a physician assistant, she decided to ask her own mother to help out. But since her mother, Agnes Hallmark, has rheumatoid arthritis, with her hands being the most affected part of her body, sewing isn’t as it used to be.

“She challenged me to learn how to sew,” Malvar-Hallmark said. “We bought a new sewing machine. It was challenging but I’m getting the concept. I spent two hours [finishing] my first mask.”

After seeing a post on a Northern Nevada Nurses Facebook page asking if anyone is making masks, Malvar-Hallmark decided to get to work and answered the call. She replied, saying  they were making masks, and began to receive messages from friends who were looking for some. The first 10 masks were sent to her coworker’s daughter and son-in-law in Washington State. They’ve got more in the works to share with cousins in Orlando, Florida, who are nurses, as well as other family and friends who are healthcare workers in Maryland, Louisiana, and even the United Kingdom. Of course, she’s also sharing them with local friends and co-workers.

The process is gradually speeding up as Malvar-Hallmark and her mother have gotten it down to a science. “My mom said between 15 to 20 minutes per mask. If it’s me, two hours,” she joked. “But I am doing better. So, we figured we can do [an] assembly line-type of work. I cut and do simple sewing then she does the complicated ones.”

As a nurse who provides direct care to patients, Malvar-Hallmark knows that if she is not cautious, she could bring germs of any sort home to her mom, who has more than two underlying conditions and is immunocompromised. “This goes [for] all nurses and other healthcare workers,” she said. “I don’t think it is the lack of preparation but rather COVID-19 [that] caught us off guard worldwide.”

Masks aren’t the only personal protective gear of which healthcare practitioners are in need. Eye protection is also of great importance, given a shortage of clear plastic face shields. The folks at Truckee’s Tahoe Sports Hub found their own way of helping out following a message received over social media asking if they could donate goggles to the newly formed nonprofit Goggles for Docs.

GOGGLES FOR GOOD: Within a few short hours of putting out a social media call for donations of old ski goggles, the collection bin at Tahoe Sports Hub was already starting to fill up. Rob Cavallo, pictured, who owns the Sports Hub with his wife, Wrenn, will have the collection bin in front of the store daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Photo by Juliana Demarest/Moonshine Ink

“We knew we wanted to donate but thought there was also a bigger opportunity for a mountain community like Truckee to contribute,” said Wrenn Cavallo, who owns Tahoe Sports Hub with her husband, Rob.

A region filled with ski bums is bound to have a hefty supply of old goggles laying around, so they decided to put a collection bin out in front of their West River Street storefront. Donations can be dropped right in the bin between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“One of the most amazing things about this difficult time is how quickly things can move,” Cavallo said. “We have had to adapt as a business and we have seen our community innovate to connect and support each other in this strange new world.”

The collection bin was put out on April 4, followed by a mid-morning call-to-action among friends and family via social media.

“Since posting the announcement … I have received messages from local EMTs and a Tahoe Forest ER doc thanking us for the effort and asking for direct donations to these local teams,” she said. “In a time where it is easy to feel helpless, it’s nice to be able to help.”



  • Juliana Demarest

    Juliana Demarest is a Jersey girl with ink in her blood. She fell in love with print journalism at a young age in the '80s when her Uncle Tony would take her to "work" at his weekly paper. In 1997, she co-founded a weekly newspaper in North Jersey. One day, she went to photograph a local farmer for a news story. She ended up marrying him and leaving journalism to become a farmer's wife. In 2010, they packed up their two children and headed to Truckee in pursuit of the outdoor life. She didn't realize just how much she missed journalism until she joined Moonshine in 2018 after taking time off to be mom. Connect with Juliana

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