It’s a few days after Thanksgiving and volunteers inside the Inter-Faith Treasure House are doing what they do best: helping struggling families make ends meet.
Some prep clothing donations for the Treasure House’s on-site thrift shop, while others fill food boxes with frozen meats and donated baked goods.
The nonprofit calls itself “the safety net of the community,” and its statistics bear that out — during a typical month, Treasure House distributes 60,000 pounds of food and serves 500 free meals to the area’s hungry, and provides emergency rental and bill assistance to about 10 families in crisis.
“So many different people come through here,” says Treasure House Executive Director Nancy Wilson. “The needs vary. Sometimes, their hours have been cut at work and they can’t pay the bills, or they’re hungry.”
Dave Pinkernell, president of the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, which awards grants to nonprofits that directly help Camas-Washougal families, says the Treasure House, with its cadre of 150 dedicated volunteers and ability to stretch a dollar, has impressed Community Chest board members over the years.
Of the 21 grants totalling $75,000 the Community Chest awarded in 2017, the largest — for about $15,000 — went to the Treasure House.
“They have a really compelling story,” Pinkernell says of the nonprofit.
The same can be said for the Community Chest.
In operation since the mid-1940s, the Community Chest collects donations from individuals and businesses throughout East Clark County and gives the money to nonprofits that directly improve the lives of impoverished Camas-Washougal children and families. The group has no paid positions and few overhead costs, Pinkernell says, so 97 percent of those donations go directly into the community.
In 2017, Community Chest grants helped pay for:
- 4,000 free meals at the Treasure House’s Thursday evening Lost and Found cafe;
- Weekend food boxes for 150 students in need;
- Safe housing at The Oaks for 20 at-risk youth from Camas-Washougal;
- Emergency assistance for 1,100 families through the Children’s Home Society of Washington’s East County Family Resource Center in Washougal;
- A summer reading program in Camas and Washougal libraries that served 3,000 local youth; and
- 60 swimming scholarships distributed through Camas Parks and Recreation.
The grants also pay for programs that aren’t as apparent to the outside community, but that still assist area youth and families in small, but substantial ways. Pinkernell points to one of his favorite grant recipients, the Camas and Washougal Principal’s Checkbook program, as a prime example of this behind-the-scenes giving.
“The name makes it sound like we’re giving principals money,” Pinkernell says. “But this is money that principals can use to help students in need.”
For instance, if a teacher knows that a student can’t afford to pay for a class field trip, or maybe needs help affording sports fees, the Principal’s Checkbook can help pay for these things and give those students equal opportunities at school.
The Community Chest is currently fundraising for its 2018 grant cycle and is accepting grant applications now through Friday, Dec. 15. To be eligible for a grant, applicants must serve the Camas-Washougal community, be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and provide services in education, youth activities, aid to people with special needs, natural resource conservation, health and welfare programs or crisis services.
The group will announce its grant recipients and begin quarterly grant payments in March of 2018. For more information about submitting a grant application before the Dec. 15 deadline, visit www.CamasWashougalCommunityChest.org.
Paper mill’s partial closure could take bite out of Community Chest donations
Although individuals do sometimes make donations straight to the Community Chest, the vast majority of the group’s annual donations — about 90 percent — come from local employees who donate through their employer-led payroll deduction system.
Employees from the cities of Camas and Washougal, as well as both local school districts, Hewlett-Packard, where Pinkernell worked before retiring five years ago, and Georgia-Pacific all have the option of having a small contribution to the Community Chest taken out of their paychecks.
In fact, the employees at Georgia-Pacific have been particularly generous over the years, Pinkernell says.
“The mill rescued us about 15 or 20 years ago,” Pinkernell says. “Our funding had dried up and they stepped in and said they would do an employee payroll deduction.”
Since then, the Community Chest has been able to rely on generous donations from Camas paper mill workers, as well as the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, which donates about $10,000 each year to the local charitable giving group.
“The beauty of the mill is that most of the people who work there are local,” Pinkernell says. “And they have been very generous, willing to give to us year after year through payroll deductions.”
Now, however, the future of those donations is up in the air.
Last month, Georgia-Pacific, which is now owned by Koch Industries, announced plans to seriously downsize the Camas paper mill and lay off nearly two-thirds of the mill’s workers.
Pinkernell and Camas City Manager Pete Capell, who sits on the Community Chest’s Board of Directors, say the organization will be OK through its 2018 round of grant-giving, but that board members are a bit worried about what will happen once the mill shutters its pulp operations, dismantles its office paper machines and gets rid of nearly 300 workers.
“Our story is that this money stays in Camas-Washougal,” Capell says of the Community Chest.
The local angle worked for paper mill employees, Capell says, because the vast majority of them also lived in Camas or Washougal and were more interested in helping local families in need.
The group has had trouble finding similar interest at other major businesses in the Camas-Washougal area, because a smaller percentage of those workers actually live locally.
“If you’re a young professional who works in Camas, but lives in the Pearl District in Portland, donating to Camas-Washougal families isn’t going to seem like a big deal,” Capell says.
That’s not to say that area businesses don’t contribute — the Community Chest counts local employers like Pendleton, Exterior Wood, Management Engineering Associates, Linear Technologies, Underwriters Laboratories and Waste Connections as major donors — but the Georgia-Pacific mill and its employees have long been a reliable source of income for the charitable giving organization.
To help bridge any future funding gaps caused by the mill’s downsizing, Pinkernell and Community Chest board members have been looking for individuals who can champion the organization’s cause inside their own local places of employment, perhaps starting a payroll deduction program like the one that has proven so successful at the mill and at Hewlett-Packard.
They also are looking to other funding sources, including the group’s new Planned Giving Program, which offers an easy way for people to give to the Community Chest during their lifetime — through stocks, bonds, real estate and cash donations — or after they have died, as a legacy gift, by including the Community Chest in their wills, trusts, life insurance or memorial donations.
Individuals can also donate to the Community Chest through Fred Meyer’s Community Rewards program and/or Amazon’s Smile program. For more information about donating to the Community Chest, visit www.CamasWashougalCommunityChest.org.
Pinkernell has said in the past that his group could always give more grants than they have funding for.
“The challenge is always raising enough money to meet the community’s needs,” Pinkernell says. “(In 2015), we had about $105,000 worth of legitimate requests, but we didn’t have enough for all of them.”
Wilson, the director of Treasure House, knows all too well what it’s like to have more needs than resources. She could always use more money to help families in need pay the rent or keep the water running in their homes.
Asked what would happen if the Community Chest’s funding dipped and Treasure House didn’t get as large of a grant, Wilson looks around at the area where volunteers fill backpacks with food for hungry children and sighs.
“It would hurt people in Camas and Washougal who don’t have as much,” she says. “It would hurt this community.”