Building community

Camas-Washougal Community Chest kicks off campaign for new donations after paper mill layoffs

Children learn about habitat and the environment at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to a grant to the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest. (Camas-Washougal Community Chest)

Opera Quest Northwest, based in Vancouver, is a frequent Camas-Washougal Community Chest grant recipient. The nonprofit aims to educate, enrich and instill a love of music in Camas-Washougal children by introducing them to opera. (Courtesy of Opera Quest Northwest)

Washougal sixth graders from Canyon Creek Middle School listen to four U.S. Forest Service rangers talk about the Columbia River Gorge's post-fire recovery, at their Explore the Gorge outdoor school, hosted by Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and funded in part by a $5,000 Camas-Washougal Community Chest grant, in June. Forest Service rangers, pictured from left to right, are Angel Robinson, Sophie Steckler, Elisabeth Dare and Kat Schut. In the background, a view of the Oregon side of the gorge damaged by the September 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. (Post-Record file photo)

A 2018 Community Chest grant helped the General Federation of Women's Clubs fund Reach for the Stars with Books at Hathaway Elementary School in Washougal. The program helps young children grow their school readiness skills and strengthen their social interactions. (Photo courtesy of Rene Carroll)

John McHugh, of Camas, loads frozen meats and donated baked goods from local grocery stores into food bags for families in need at the Inter-Faith Treasure House in November 2017. McHugh is one of 150 volunteers who keep Treasure House running. The local nonprofit, which helps thousands of low-income Camas-Washougal families, is partially funded by an annual Camas-Washougal Community Chest grant. (Post-Record file photo)

Children participate in pumpkin decorating during a Camas Farmer's Market Harvest Festival. Annual grants from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest help pay for the market's Produce Pals program. (Post-Record file photo)

Children learn about habitat and the environment at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to a grant to the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest. (Contributed photo courtesy of Camas-Washougal Community Chest)

Preliminary renderings show what the outdoor "plank house" style "Gathering Place at Washuxwal" pavilion next to the Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal might look like. A 2018 grant from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest will help construct the pavilion. (Contributed illustration courtesy of Lewallen Architecture)

Canyon Creek Middle School students participate in the Friends of the Gorge Explore the Gorge program at Beacon Rock in June 2018. The Explore the Gorge program is partially funded through a $5,000 grant from the Camas-Washougal Communty Chest. (Post-Record file photo)

When it comes to helping the community, there is nothing quite like the Camas-Washougal Community Chest.

Now entering its 2019 grant cycle, the nonprofit, grant-funding organization has been directly impacting generations of Camas-Washougal folks for more than seven decades.

“Since 1946, the Community Chest has been all about local people helping local people,” explained Richard Reiter, campaign chair for the Community Chest. “The money we raise is used to fund grants for local nonprofits that serve Camas and Washougal residents in need, at-risk youth programs and address natural resource conservation and education.”

The Community Chest group recently launched its fundraising drive with a goal of collecting $100,000 for the 2019 grant-funding cycle.

Donations to the longstanding Camas-Washougal nonprofit are needed now more than ever before, Reiter said, especially considering the changes at Camas’ paper mill.

Employees from the Georgia-Pacific paper and pulp mill have long been among the greatest sources of donations for the Community Chest — giving monthly contributions through the company’s payroll donation program. Georgia-Pacific also pitched in with an annual $10,000 corporate contribution to the Community Chest.

Now, however, the G-P funds are in flux.

Ever since the company announced plans in November 2017 to halt pulp production and shut down one of two remaining paper lines, money trickling into the Community Chest from employee payroll donations has been dwindling.

In May, the mill began staggered layoffs of 300 employees.

Since then, Reiter said, the Community Chest has experienced monthly revenue decreases of about $1,000.

The group’s organizers say outreach efforts to get other local corporations to offer employees the same type of monthly payroll donation deductions haven’t been too successful. Instead, the group now hopes individuals and smaller businesses will choose to support the 72-year-old organization, which sends about 99 percent of its collected donations back into the Camas-Washougal community.

“We are still reaching out to businesses, hoping they will (start) an employee payroll deduction program,” Reiter said. “We’ve had more success with public employers — the two cities (Camas and Washougal), the Port of Camas-Washougal and both school districts have employee payroll deductions. Now, we have to reach out to more individuals and businesses.”

Reiter said the G-P employees may have felt a closer connection to the Camas-Washougal communities and were more willing to fund a hyperlocal organization like the Community Chest. Now, many of the largest private employers in Camas and Washougal have employees who may or may not live in the area.

“They may live in Vancouver and work in Camas,” Reiter said. “So maybe they don’t have as close of a connection as (the paper mill employees, who tended to live in Camas or Washougal.)”

In 2018, the Community Chest funded $83,350 worth of grants and helped 23 nonprofits fund programs such as the weekly “Produce Pals” at the Camas Farmer’s Market that helps educate children about how food is produced and gives them a $2 token to choose their own fruit or vegetable; Campership Awards to help low-income families send their children to summer Boy Scouts of America camps; and the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Explore the Gorge program, which provides environmental and outdoor lessons for sixth-grade students at Washougal’s Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek middle schools.

The Community Chest’s biggest grant typically goes to the Inter-Faith Treasure House to help fund emergency and daily food needs, provide emergency rental and utility funds to families in need and pay for school supplies and the school backpack program to help low-income children in Camas and Washougal.

The Children’s Home Society’s East County Family Resource Center, which helps low-income families in the Washougal area, also is one of the Community Chest’s main grant recipients. In 2018, the Resource Center’s grant helped 2,500 families.

In 2018, the grants funded by the Community Chest served nearly 4,000 meals at the Lost and Found Cafe, sent 170 students home with weekend food boxes, provided safe housing for 15 at-risk youth from Camas and Washougal, gave supplies to 60 low-income students through the Principal’s Checkbook Fund, and supported 2,740 local youth through the Camas and Washougal libraries’ summer reading programs.

The organization often funds innovative programs designed to help low-income families remain in the fast-growing and rapidly gentrifying Camas and Washougal areas. For instance, a $5,000 grant from the Community Chest to the Evergreen Habitat for Humanity’s Brush with Kindness program helped three Camas-Washougal veterans take care of home repairs and code violations they could not otherwise afford. One project, for instance, helped a 72-year-old disabled Washougal veteran and his wife remain in their home, which had several city code violations, by cleaning the couple’s yard, hauling away debris, painting part of the home and repairing a back step and handrail.

In November, the Community Chest will begin collecting grant proposals for its 2019 grant cycle. Those grants will be announced in March 2019.

First, however, the organization needs to have enough donations to fund its annual grants.

“Giving to the Community Chest is an easy and efficient way to help people in need in our hometown,” said Community Chest President Dave Pinkernell.

Individuals and businesses can donate online at CamasWashougalCommunityChest.org, or by participating in Fred Meyer’s Community Rewards or Amazon’s Smile programs.

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