IMPACT Camas-Washougal’s annual ‘call to action’ continues to grow

Volunteers needed to help fill food boxes for local families in need on Sunday, June 9

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IMPACT Camas-Washougal volunteers help sort canned food in 2023. (Contributed photo courtesy of Rene Carroll)

IMPACT Camas-Washougal began in 2015 as a “call-to-action” from St. Matthew Lutheran Church pastor Bob Barber, who instead of delivering the final sermon in a series titled “Be the Difference” one Sunday told the congregation, “We’re going shopping today.”

The parishioners walked out of the Washougal church and drove to local grocery stores, where they purchased about $600 worth of food. They returned to the church and placed the food into “about a dozen” boxes, which were then given to then-Excelsior High School to help families “get through the month-long gap between the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer food program,” according to volunteer Scott Friedrich.

The initiative went well enough that Barber decided to try to turn it into an annual event.

“Our pastor was excited and sure we could pull it off the very next year,” said Brenda Raetz, St. Matthew Lutheran Church’s office secretary and IMPACT Camas-Washougal Committee member. “We reached out to the schools in both the Washougal and Canada school districts (in 2016), and ever since then we’ve been helping out families in both school districts from just about every school.”

During the past decade, the event, which will be held at noon Sunday, June 9, at Parker’s Landing Historical Park at the Port of Camas-Washougal, has grown from a “semi-spontaneous act of kindness” into a “meticulously planned and executed event that serves every school in the Camas and Washougal school districts,” according to a news release, which stated that the event drew more than 70 volunteers in 2023.

“We have significantly more volunteers from the community now,” Barber said. “It has become a true community event, much more streamlined and efficient. The first couple of years, it took all day to pack 25 or 30 boxes. Now, with the help of the community, it takes about an hour to pack nearly 200 boxes.”

Volunteers will pack food donations for families in need during the event, which will also feature a barbecue lunch and a performance by the Camas-Washougal Orchestra.

“We’re really excited,” Raetz said. “We can hardly believe we’ve been doing it for 10 years — time’s been flying by. We’re just excited to be able to keep helping families and our neighbors who need a little extra assistance.”

The event has evolved as it’s grown. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, event leaders decided to turn it into more of a basic fundraiser by soliciting money to pre-purchase food in bulk rather than accepting piecemeal donations from community members.

“(That way), we know we’re getting the same stuff in every box,” Raetz said. “We pre-order all the foods from Winco; they give us the best prices. The Saturday morning (before) the event, we arrive at Winco with a U-Haul truck, and (store employees) bring out pallets of food. We hand-load all the food into the U-Haul truck, and we leave all the food sitting there until Sunday, and we drive the U-Haul out to the park. The volunteers not only get to pack the food into the boxes, but now they get to help unload all the food from the truck and arrange it on tables.”

The event features a “giant assembly line,” which includes about 15 tables, according to Raetz.

“Marilyn Yates, our treasurer and original volunteer, came up with a great ‘Tetris’ diagram of how all the food fits just so into the boxes so they all get the exact same thing,” Raetz said. “The volunteers tape a box together and go down the assembly line and grab each item of food. There’s probably about 25 food items that fit into a box. There’s a quality checker at the end, (where) a gift card goes into the box.”

The boxes include about $40 worth of food, including cereal, chicken, tuna, peanut butter, pasta, Hamburger Helper, rice, and beans, as well as a gift card, which the families can use to purchase fresher items, such as bread, fruit and vegetables.

“And then on Monday morning, we all gather back together with the U-Haul trucks refilled with full boxes, and we drive around to (the schools) and drop them off at the offices,” Raetz said. “The school counselors work with the families and get the boxes with them. We never actually know names or anything of who’s getting the boxes. We just know numbers. The counselors are a real integral part of connecting those resources with their families.”

Brenda Schallberger, the coordinator for the Camas School District’s Family-Community Resource Center, said that 36 families have regularly visited the Jack, Will and Rob Center seeking food assistance during the 2024-25 school year, and that CSD counselors have identified an additional 24 families who will benefit from supplemental groceries.

“When St. Matthew’s called toward the end of the school year to organize the IMPACT Camas-Washougal event, I was so relieved,” Schallberger said. “Working parents will have shelf stable supplies for their students when they go off to work — and even more meaningful is that all the families realize how much this community cares about them and their well-being. More than ever during these difficult economic times, when rents and food costs are unusually high, we believe in the great positive impact of this event.”

Nancy Nass-Boon, coordinator for Washougal School District’s (WSD) family resource center, said that the event has assisted “many, many WSD families over the years.”

“Beyond boosting those experiencing food insecurity, the program has also impacted the community,” she said. “Our neighbors are eager to help when they are aware of the need. Spreading awareness that there are families in need has been critical and explains how the support of the program has grown over these last 10 years.”

She added that higher food costs have strained many local families.

“The need in our community continues to grow,” Nass-Boon said. “More families than ever are relying on assistance to make ends meet. The distribution of IMPACT food boxes helps meet this need with compassion and empathy.”

Event organizers figure they need $18,000 to purchase enough food and gift cards to fill 200 boxes. They receive funding from public and private donations, as well as grants from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, Camas-Washougal Rotary, the Camas Lions Club, and other churches and organizations.

“It’s just a way to give back and help the community in which we serve,” said Brandon Roberts, who has volunteered at past events with a group from Windermere Crest Realty Company in Camas.

Families have received 1,200 boxes of food from the event since its inception, according to Raetz.

“We know there’s a lot of need out there, but even though we’re not reaching everybody who probably truly needs the help, we know we’re at least reaching some of the people in need of help,” she said. “(During the summer), all of a sudden, it’s a lot harder on families to feed a whole household when they’ve been relying on help from the school. We say that we’re ‘bridging the gap’ between the end of the school year and when summer programs might start back up. It’s been pretty rewarding, and is a good way to give back to the community that you live in.”

Community members can volunteer at the event or donate money online at, send a check to St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 716 Washougal River Road, Washougal, WA, 98671, or bring a check to the church between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. For more information, contact Raetz at 360-835-5533 or