Washougal will distribute charitable-giving ‘arks’

ARK Clark County campaign urges city employees, individuals to give to favorite causes

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Washougal Mayor Molly Coston holds an "ark" charity box. The city of Washougal recenlty purchased 100 boxes from ARK Clark County, a Vancouver-based grassroots effort to spread "random acts of kindness." (Contributed photo courtesy of Rose Jewell/city of Washougal)

In December 2020, the Vancouver-based Chabad Jewish Center of Clark County launched the ARK Clark County campaign, selling piggy bank-like plastic boxes in an effort to encourage community members to give to people or organizations in need.

City of Washougal leaders heard about the campaign, thought it would be a perfect fit for their ongoing wellness initiative and purchased 100 charity boxes. The city plans to distribute the boxes to employees over the next several weeks.

“There’s certain things that we want to touch on — mental, physical, emotional and financial wellness,” said city manager assistant Rose Jewell. “People who give and care for their community tend to be healthier human beings. I had some conversations with the rabbi (Shmulik Greenberg) to learn more, and then I talked to our human resources director, who said, ‘Wait, this is perfect. This is right in line with what we want to do with the next step in our wellness program.'”

The boxes are known as “arks” — the letters stand for “acts of random kindness” and the bright yellow boxes are shaped like boats. People are encouraged to drop coins, dollar bills or checks into their box and donate the funds to the person or charity of their choice once it’s full, and then repeat the process.

The campaign, which originated in South Africa in 2014 as part of rabbi David Mansiter’s Change the World for Good program, had distributed more than 700,000 boxes around the world as of January 2019, according to a report by Independent Online, a South Africa-based news site.

The local campaign has sold about 2,500 arks to people, organizations and businesses, including CID Bio-Science in Camas, and wants to eventually get one into the hands of every Clark County resident.

“People are becoming empowered to give and to choose where to give,” Greenberg said. “It’s a grassroots effort. We’re not here to tell you what to do with (the money). It’s here to help you to find a good way to be more kind and more giving. There are so many opportunities.”

Greenberg hopes the arks will encourage people to give on a regular basis, and that one small act of random kindness will eventually develop into “acts of routine kindness.”

“For a family or person that wants to volunteer, if it’s not consistent, it’s not part of them so much,” Greenberg said. “If I tried to educate (somebody) to be conscious of caring for others (around) the holidays, I’m not making a better person for the long term, but just once a year or twice a year. But if I do something consistently, it becomes part of my DNA. I make a routine for myself and I will develop into a better person, a more caring person. If we want to develop better communities, we have to start somewhere. This is the easiest way to do that. It’s the cheapest way, and it’s handy.”

City of Washougal leaders want to “get people to think outside themselves and to think regularly about giving to others within their community,” according to Jewell.

“(We liked that) people could save at their own pace, there was no requirement, there’s no deadlines, it’s not stringent, and it has a lot of flexibility for people to imagine what they can do to help and make their world in our community a little better,” she said. “I’m really interested to see what people come up with because everybody has their own passions. This program allows people to invest in something that’s important to them and then see the outcome and the results of what their contributions made. I think people want to have some ownership in what they donate. A lot of time they donate and they don’t see the benefit of their donation. (They wonder), ‘Did it really get there? Did it really make a difference?’ This is a program where you’re going to know. You’re going to have some method of control over it.”

The city hopes to expand the program beyond its employees.

“I really hope (it will spread to other community members),” Jewell said. “Goodwill is something everybody needs. It’s beneficial to give and to receive, but I think during this COVID climate it really helps because everyone’s been shut in. This is going to help people to think outside themselves a little bit.”

Greenberg agreed the campaign’s messaging has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think people are more open to it,” he said. “They’re not just thinking about themselves. For many, many people, (the pandemic) has given them a year to think about what their goals in life are, and what is not important. Obviously, this is a time when people are more aware of the needs of others. There cannot be a better time for it.”