The Camas-Washougal Community Chest will celebrate its 75th birthday this year with a new friend and a few hundred thousand gifts.
The hyperlocal Community Chest, which collects donations from individuals and businesses throughout the region and grants money to nonprofits serving Camas-Washougal families and children, recently announced its new partnership with the Camas-Washougal Rotary Foundation.
“We are excited that our partnership with the Rotary Foundation will help more local charities thrive by supporting much-needed programs and services for residents of Camas and Washougal financially and with volunteers,” said Joelle Scheldorf, co-president of the Community Chest.
Rotary Foundation President Kathy Bussman agreed.
“Together we can do more good in Camas and Washougal,” Bussman said. “The Rotary commitment to ‘service above self’ will also add volunteers to the mix as we work to make a difference for many families.”
Although the Community Chest’s annual grants always help local families who are struggling to make ends meet, the organization’s campaign manager, Richard Reiter, said the applications for the Community Chest’s 2021 grants showed how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has been for low-income families and the nonprofits that serve them.
“We know from our applications and talking to our grantees that these are challenging times for many of them,” Reiter said. “Some of our essential services grantees have had to make significant adjustments to continue to serve their low-income or homeless clients.”
The Community Chest’s 2021 grants, which total a record $127,671, will assist 28 nonprofits and help more than 19,500 individuals in Camas and Washougal, Reiter said.
In a press release announcing the 2021 grants, Community Chest leaders said the grants “will fund such diverse services as emergency food assistance, aid to families in crisis or needing emergency services, safe temporary shelter for at-risk youth, a severe weather shelter program at the Washougal Senior Center, a homeless family day center located at Saint Thomas Aquinas in Camas (and) enhancing the habitat of Gibbons Creek in the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.”
Grant will help Treasure House ‘keep the lights on’
One of the Community Chest’s larger grants will help the Inter-Faith Treasure House, a Washougal nonprofit that runs the East County Food Bank, pay its fixed utility costs.
“The Community Chest grant will keep our lights on,” said Treasure House executive director Nancy Wilson. “Normally we put this money toward our electricity or other utility needs.”
Weathering the pandemic has not been easy for the Inter-Faith Treasure House, Wilson added.
“We lost our volunteers because people were afraid to come in, and then we had to close the thrift shop, which is a big source of revenue,” Wilson said.
At the same time, the community’s need for assistance wasn’t going away.
“The food part was slow at first, because everybody was afraid to come out, but it’s getting back to normal,” Wilson said. “But we’ve been steady with the backpack program, still going strong with that.”
The Treasure House’s backpack program delivers backpacks filled with about 100 pounds of food to the homes of Camas-Washougal children every Wednesday. The backpacks are designed to help children and their families make it through the weekends, evenings and other times when schools are not providing meals.
Although many thrift shops have reopened, Wilson said the Treasure House thrift shop, which shares its space with the food bank, is not authorized to reopen to the public yet.
“We can’t let shoppers in because we’re a combination food bank, thrift store,” she said. “And we have a lack of volunteers right now. Everybody wants to be safe, and I don’t want them to take unnecessary chances.”
The Community Chest grant will help pay for the nonprofits utility costs and “help keep the lights on,” but Wilson said the Treasure House could always use more money to help run the food bank, as well as nonperishable food items for the backpack program.
“The backpack program is our most expensive food outreach,” she added. “People can bring child-friendly food like canned chili, tuna fish, peanut butter, cold cereal, hot cereal, to our warehouse from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.”
New grant helps people keep pets
The Community Chest approved three new grant recipients in 2021, including The Pink Lemonade Project, which will help low-income cancer survivors in Camas and Washougal pay for things health insurance doesn’t cover, such as groceries, transportation services, lymphedema sleeves, lost wages and rent or mortgage payments.
Another new grant will fund scholarships for foster children and children from low-income families who cannot afford to pay for skateboarding time at the Washougal-based Lunchmoney Indoor Skatepark.
A third new grant will go to the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS) in Washougal to help fund community services, such as temporary pet boarding, emergency veterinary care and a pet-food pantry, that are designed to keep people and their pets together through financial hardships or in times of crisis.
Micki Simeone, executive director of the WCGHS, said staff had discussed the need for these types of services before, but that the pandemic pushed the local humane society to act sooner rather than later.
“We have a certain percentage of people in the community who are chronically low-income, but the pandemic increased that,” Simeone said. “We’d been talking about creating community programs (to help keep low-income people together with their pets) for years, but COVID really forced us to put our mission in motion.”
Simeone said WCGHS regularly hears from people who want to provide the best care for their pets but who are struggling with financial issues, facing unexpected emergencies or trying to cope with a sudden crisis.
“Pets are family members,” Simeone said. “We have lots of elderly people on fixed incomes who love their pets. And they can afford food and basic veterinary care, but they can’t afford the bigger stuff.”
That’s where the WCGHS’s new emergency medical fund can help out.
“We had one lady call us late on Christmas Eve. She said, ‘My kitten just crashed, and I don’t know what’s happening,'” Simeone said. “She had called local vets, but no one was taking (new clients) and she didn’t have money to go to the (emergency veterinary hospital), so we said, ‘OK, we’ll help you.'”
The WCGHS was able to get an appointment with Orchard Hills veterinary clinic, where the humane society is a regular client, and used money from the WCGHS’ emergency medical fund to help treat the kitten. The story did not have a happy ending, unfortunately — the kitten was too ill to be saved — but the woman knew everyone had tried their best to help her beloved pet, Simeone said.
Other community services at the humane society that can help lower-income families keep their pets include an emergency pet food pantry and a temporary pet boarding arrangement that allows low-income families in crisis to weather emergencies without having to relinquish their pets to the humane society to be adopted out to another family.
“We had somebody call recently who had a substance abuse problem and was going into (a rehabilitation center) but had nobody to watch their animals, and no money to pay for boarding,” Simeone said. “We’ve had other people who have had sick family members who had to go into the hospital and need temporary boarding for their pets.”
The money from the Community Chest grant, along with donations from community members, will help the WCGHS keep these types of community programs going into the future, and help low-income Camas and Washougal residents stay with their pets during times of hardship.
“It used to be customary for people to surrender animals they couldn’t afford — maybe they’d been kicked out of their house or had lost their job — so, over time, we started saying to ourselves, ‘These people are just going through a hardship. They are people who truly love their pets, but they are in these acute situations and just need a little bit of time, they just need to get back on their feet,” Simeone said.
The humane society’s staff strongly believes pets are part of the “human services” piece of grant-funding.
“We’re trying to show the world that pets are not property,” Simeone said. “They fall under human services. … They provide therapy for children, for our veterans. They provide companionship for our elderly community members. They are part of the family.”
“We are trying to keep people with their pets,” she added. “When we have people come to us in tears and say they have nowhere to turn and don’t want to give up on their pet, we want to be able to help them.”
Major donors to the Community Chests’ 2021 fundraising efforts included the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, G-P employees at the Camas paper mill, and employees from the Camas School District and city of Camas. To learn more about the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, visit CamasWashougalCommunityChest.org.
List of 2021 Community Chest grant recipients:
Children’s Home Society – East County Family Resource Center: Helps fund staff at Resource Center. Helps fund parent education groups, youth support groups, emergency basic assistance, behavioral health services and health care services.
Washougal School District – Principal’s Checkbook: Helps Washougal school principals provide for basic student needs to give low income or homeless students equal opportunities at school. Funds showing Hearts of Glass film and hosting panel discussion on employing persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Janus Youth Programs: Provides funding for outreach efforts and overnight facility stays for Camas and Washougal runaway youth at risk for abuse and neglect. Re-introduces kids to safe housing.
Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership: Provides classroom lessons and outdoor applied learning programs for youth, including habitat enhancement projects adjacent to Gibbons Creek in the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Campen Creek in Mable Kerr Park.
Meals on Wheels People: Purchases food and food service supplies for Camas and Washougal Meals on Wheels People program.
Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation – Washougal branch: Supports the Washougal Community Library’s summer reading program for kids and adults.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge: Helps fund the Explore the Gorge classroom lessons and outdoor environmental education program for sixth graders in Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek Middle schools in Washougal School District.
REACH Community Development: Helps buy groceries, baby essentials, cleaning supplies, hygiene products and similar basic household needs. Helps with rent and utility assistance. Buys school supplies and holiday food baskets. Serves Gateway Gardens and Towne Square communities in Washougal.
Camas Farmers Market: Helps implement “Produce Pals”, a weekly activities program to educate children about where and how food is produced. Children completing weekly program receive a $2 token to spend at Camas Farmers Market – grant will buy supplies for take home activity bags and tokens. Helps buy health and safety supplies for staff, vendors and customers, including rental of portable restroom.
Opera Quest Northwest: Helps pay for creating a series of 5- to 10-minute videos focused on “Opera Voices,” “Where do Opera Stories Come From?” and “How Opera Reflects Culture.” Also pays for producing supporting materials for teachers. Provides videos and supporting materials to local schools at no cost. Aimed at students in third through fifth grades.
Pathways Clinic: Helps buy ultrasound supplies, pregnancy test kits and COVID–19 personal protective equipment and supplies.
Camas-Washougal Historical Society: Helps connect the recently completed The Gathering Place at Washuxwal, an open air pavilion, to the Two Rivers Heritage Museum. Helps with maintenance and repair costs at the museum complex.
General Federation of Women’s Clubs: Helps buy pre-K books for all children enrolled in both Camas and Washougal School districts’ pre-K programs. Program aimed at youth from birth through age 5 to grow their school readiness skills and strengthen their social interaction skills.
Journey Theater Arts Group: Helps cover five student scholarships and teacher salaries for 16 hours of performance arts education and training spread over eight weeks.
Friends and Foundation of the Camas Library: Supports the Camas Library’s summer reading program for kids and teens.
TreeSong Nature Awareness and Retreat Center: Helps fund a circle garden, including preparing the site, installing the infrastructure and planting native plants. The circle garden, including a peace pole and featuring local art will offer education, knowledge, and respite to children and adults attending the retreat center.
Family Promise of Clark County: Helps cover a portion of the cost of the FP Cares academic support services program. Helps homeless, disadvantaged youth avoid the virtual learning slide and catch-up and/or maintain grade level.
Police Activities League of Vancouver: Buys books and pays for police staff time to present five literacy events for 2nd and 3rd graders in the Camas and Washougal School Districts.
ReFuel Washougal: Helps buy a microwave, ice machine and food processor to support its homeless meal programs at Washougal Senior Center. Buys serving supplies and meals-to-go supplies and food for an Emergency Pantry.
Dance Evolution: Helps pay for free dance lessons for toddlers 0 to 5 and young girls ages 9 to 15. Future plans call for adding free programs for LGBTQ youth.
Kawanis Camp Wa-Ri-Ki: Helps fund outdoor education activities that offer physical challenges, problem-solving abilities and human interactions all in a fun and exciting camp community. Partners with Camas Parks and Recreation – Skatepark Pays for a portion of the cost to rehabilitate the existing skatepark.
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church: Helps buy and install a washer and dryer to support the homeless who use St. Anne’s Safe Stay overnight parking lot camping program.
Pink Lemonade Project: Helps fund Pink Practicalities, a financial aid and assistance program. Covers costs that health insurance doesn’t, such as groceries, transportation services, lymphedema sleeves, lost wages, rent/mortgage payments, etc.
Lunchmoney Indoor Skatepark: Helps fund scholarships for foster kids, kids on public assistance and or families that cannot afford skate time to use an indoor skatepark offering supervision and mentoring.
Boy Scouts of America – Camas/Washougal Troops: Helps fund Campership Awards so that families in need can send their scouts to summer camp.
West Columbia Gorge Humane Society: programs and services designed to keep pets and people together during times of hardship, crises or emergency; pet food pantry, temporary pet boarding, impound/owner surrender fee relief and emergency veterinary care.