Giving back to the community

Lifelong volunteer AJ Bogue organizes meal delivery to families in need during COVID-19 crisis

AJ Bogue hasn’t been able to leave his Washougal home since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-March. He can’t risk exposing his wife, Beth, who has multiple sclerosis, to the coronavirus that causes the disease.

The quarantine didn’t affect Bogue too much during the first several weeks, but earlier this month he began to struggle with bouts of depression and self-pity.

“My mental state was not what it usually is. I’m normally a positive, upbeat guy,” he said. “I was unable to go anywhere, I couldn’t do the things that I normally would do and I was feeling really useless. I didn’t like that feeling.”

A visit to his doctor helped Bogue to realize that the best way to improve his spirits was to keep on doing what he loves to do: give back to the community. So that’s exactly what he did.

For the past several weeks, Bogue has led a grass-roots effort to prepare and deliver food to local people in need.

“I know that AJ has a tremendous love for the people of Washougal, and is very passionate about making a difference,” said Robert Barber, the chairman of the board of directors for ReFuel Washougal. “He’s willing to give his time and effort and energy to good causes, and this (effort) is something that I would say is an example of his character. If there’s a need, AJ is willing to step up and jump right in to help fill that need.”

Bogue’s group delivered food to eight families in the first few weeks of the pandemic.

“The need is going to start (increasing),” Bogue said. “I think it will go up … because things may not snap back to normal like people are hoping. I’m trying to be realistic. This is going to cause problems down the road, and we need to be ready.”

This kind of activity is nothing new for Bogue, who has led similar food-delivery efforts during the holiday season for the past several years.

“(Food delivery) is kind of my niche,” said Barber, who serves as a board director for ReFuel Washougal, co-owns the Smokinbudsbbq catering service and runs the popular ‘Camas-Washougal Food Fun’ Facebook page. “I’m passionate about food and cooking, and I don’t like to see people not eat. We’ve done this (delivery program) many times over the years, and it’s something we’ll do again. It’s nothing new. It’s just new for this time of year.”

Shortly after Bogue made a call for donations through his Facebook page, his Addy Street residence was bombarded with foodstuffs.

“We have 60 feet of ramp leading in and out of our front door,” said Bogue, who runs the Washougal-based NW Alternative Med Clinic and previously worked as a police officer, firefighter and medic.”It was completely filled with donations on the first day.”

Bogue, who also coordinates food purchases to supplement the donations, is careful to ensure the food is completely safe prior to delivery.

“The food never goes into my house,” he said. “I have a shop outside, and I take the food out there and put it in boxes, which are sprayed with Lysol. The food cans are wiped down with Clorox wipes. Plastic bags are sprayed inside and out, and air-dried before being used again. People are scared of allowing things to come into their house, so my biggest challenge is to make sure that everything is disinfected. I’m trying to be absolutely, ridiculously safe.”

Bogue then puts out a call for drivers, who deliver the food to people that are referred by non-profit organizations, firefighters, police officers, friends or social media posts.

Recently, Bogue heard about a local senior citizen who “was worried more about paying her bills than buying food.”

“Her neighbor found out and called one of my volunteers, who called me, and I put together three huge boxes and had them delivered,” he said. “She was in tears. She said, ‘This amount of food will last me a month.’ We said, ‘Good.’ She didn’t want to go to Meals on Wheels because she didn’t want to take food away from somebody who needed it. Well, she really needed it.”

Bogue started volunteering at an early age and never stopped. At 19, he became the youngest board member in the history of the New Mexico Zoological Society. Later, in the 1980s, he started a nonprofit organization that fed families in need during the holiday season through his job with the Ruidoso (New Mexico) Police Department

“My mom got me into volunteering when I was 8 years old, and there’s no way to get out of it. It’s almost like things don’t feel right when I don’t (volunteer),” said Bogue, who recently stepped down from his role as president of the Washougal Business Association. “My wife and I went through a rough time when our kids were tiny — she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I blew out my back. We had to rely on other people, and I had to swallow my pride and say, ‘I need help.’ People came out of the woodwork to help me, and I want to help other people the same way I was helped.

“I’ve fought depression my entire life, and I’m good at dealing with it,” he continued. “Helping others makes me feel better. Volunteering is an amazing way to help people who have depression. It just fixes it. It was incredible to figure out a way to do something to keep my mental health up and help people at the same time.”