When the Georgia-Pacific paper and pulp mill drastically reduced its workforce in May 2018, leaders at the 73-year-old Camas-Washougal Community Chest worried they wouldn’t be able to give as many grants in 2019. Richard Reiter, campaign chair for the Community Chest, told The Post-Record in October 2018 the Georgia-Pacific employees had long been among the most generous contributors, giving monthly to the nonprofit, grant-funding organizations through long-established payroll deductions.
“Since 1946, the Community Chest has been all about local people helping local people,” Reiter said. “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.”
Without the Georgia-Pacific employees’ payroll deductions, Reiter and other Community Chest leaders worried their fundraising efforts would suffer.
At first, it seemed right that they should worry — from May through October 2018, monthly contributions to the Community Chest dwindled by about $1,000 each month.
But this month, the group announced those worries were in vain.
“It’s a record year,” Reiter said. “We’ve seen a significant jump in donations.”
The Community Chest recently released its 2019 list of grant recipients. There are 28 grant recipients versus 23 in 2018, and the group raised more than $20,000 over its 2018 fundraising efforts, for a total of $103,500.
Reiter said the donation increases have been “across the board,” coming from individuals, businesses and foundations.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of individual donors who have given $500 or more. We’ve seen new businesses that have given more than $1,000. And we’ve received several donations from foundations between $2,500 and $5,000.”
New businesses that stepped up to help the local grant-funding organization included iQ Credit Union, Your Party Center, PLEXSYS Interface Products, 54?40′ Brewing and the Camas Dutch Bros Coffee location, Reiter said.
Foundations also joined in, including The Fontenette Family Charitable Fund, L.R. Mitchner Philanthropic Fund and the Windermere Foundation.
“We’ve (also) seen increased payroll deduction donations from the Port of Camas-Washougal and Camas School District employees,” Reiter said.
This year’s grant recipients also impact Camas-Washougal residents “across the board,” ranging from the dozens of sixth-grade students at Washougal’s Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek middle schools who will be able to attend the Friends of the Columbia Gorge’s “Explore the Gorge” environmental and outdoor education program thanks to the low-income or elderly Camas-Washougal residents who will benefit from the Evergreen Habitat for Humanity’s “Brush with Kindness” program, which last year helped three local veterans take care of home repairs and code violations they could not otherwise afford.
Community Chest leaders estimate the group’s 28 grants in 2019 will serve 18,000 individuals.
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.
This year, the Community Chest is funding five new grants, including ReFuel Washougal, Family Promise of Clark County, Police Activities League of Vancouver, Teen Reach Adventure Camp and the Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group.
ReFuel will use its Community Chest grant to support the group’s severe-weather shelter at the Washougal Senior Center, which recently relied on emergency funds from the Community Chest to open during a particularly cold and icy stretch in late February and early March.
Family Promise, which is opening a day center for homeless families at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Camas this spring, will use the grant funds to cover half the salary of a part-time case manager, who will help homeless families find affordable, permanent housing.
The Teen Reach Adventure Camp, which serves teens in foster care and has several Camas-Washougal teens involved in its program, will use its Community Chest grant to purchase camper supplies, including archery equipment, headlamps for caving and craft supplies for the teens, who often arrive at foster homes with few to none of their own belongings, to make items they can take with them from the annual adventure camp.
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.