WASHOUGAL — It’s a gray, chilly morning in November and Dave Pinkernell, president of the Camas Washougal Community Chest Board of Directors, slides into a booth at the Washougal Coffee Company in downtown Washougal holding a steaming, decaf latte in one hand and a list of local Camas/Washougal area nonprofits in the other.
The list, he explains, represents the 18 nonprofits that received grant money from the charitable-giving, volunteer-run Community Chest organization in 2016.
At the top of the list are the Community Chest’s top recipients: The Inter-Faith Treasure House, a nonprofit that provides food, clothing and emergency assistance to Camas/Washougal families in crisis, and the Children’s Home Society of Washington’s East County Family Resource Center, which offers family counseling, treatment for child victims of sexual abuse and various parenting education classes in addition to its role as a resource center for local families experiencing poverty, homelessness, joblessness and other crisis situations.
In operation since 1946, the Camas Washougal Community Chest collects donations from individuals and businesses throughout east Clark County and disperses the money to nonprofits that help improve the lives of impoverished children and families living in Camas and Washougal. With no paid positions and very little overhead costs, Pinkernell says, the organization is able to give about 97 percent of the money it collects back to the community.
“We are volunteer-run and we keep our expenses very low. The challenge is always raising enough money to meet the community’s needs,” Pinkernell says. “Last year, we had about $105,000 worth of legitimate requests, but we didn’t have enough for all of them.”
Pinkernell says about 90 percent of the money coming into the Community Chest charitable giving organization comes from local employees whose employers have set up payroll deductions for local charities like the Community Chest. The nonprofit counts Georgia Pacific and its Camas mill employees, as well as Hewlett-Packard and its employees among its biggest supporters. Pinkernell himself came from Hewlett-Packard and championed the Community Chest program before retiring four years ago and diving into volunteer jobs full-time.
Currently in the middle of its grant application process — with a grant deadline of Dec. 15, 2016 — the Community Chest’s board of directors is concentrating on fundraising for the 2017 grant cycle.
The group recently started its “Friends of Community Chest” program, which puts a “friend” inside various organizations and companies in east Clark County to champion the nonprofit and drum up contributions.
The organization also has developed beneficial partnerships with some small business owners in Camas and Washougal, such as Brendan Greenan, owner of Caps N’ Taps, a Camas-based taproom and bottle shop. Earlier this year, Greenan promoted Community Chest and donated a portion of his business’ profits to the nonprofit for one month.
“They raised $800 for us in one month,” Pinkernell says. “So while we’re sticking to our strategy of raising funds from employers payroll [deduction programs], we’re also reaching out to individuals and to others in the community.”
In 2016, the nonprofit granted $72,500 to 18 different nonprofits, including the Inter-Faith Treasure House, which received about 20 percent of the money, and the Children’s Home Society of Washington, which received roughly 15 percent of the funds. The remainder of the money — about $47,000 — was split amongst the other 16 nonprofits on Pinkernell’s list.
These included organizations that helped meet basic needs of children and families in crisis, such as the Children’s Fund set up at schools throughout the Camas and Washougal school districts, which provides a funds for principals to use at their discretion to assist students who cannot afford basic necessities like shoes, winter coats or emergency medical treatment.
Other nonprofits that received grants in 2016 from the Community Chest included Meals on Wheels People, which helps seniors in Camas and Washougal maintain their independence by providing nutritious meals to their homes via Meals on Wheels volunteers; REACH Community Development, which used Community Chest grant money to provide workshops, cooking classes and art supplies for low-income families at the Gateway Gardens apartment complex in Washougal; and the Camas Farmer’s Market, which used the grant money to educate children about where and how their food is produced and to give the children $4 in tokens to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the local farmer’s market.
Pinkernell explains that every grant recipient must prove to the Community Chest’s board of directors that they are directly impacting and improving the lives of Camas and Washougal residents in need.
Some of the nonprofits only serve the local communities. Others, like the Janus Youth Program, a Portland-based program that runs a crisis shelter for runaway and at-risk youth ages 9 to 17 throughout the Vancouver and Portland metro areas, use Community Chest funds for specific Camas/Washougal needs. In the case of Janus, the crisis shelter organization uses their Community Chest money to provide crisis and emergency services, as well as education and health programs, for Camas and Washougal youth.
One of the nonprofits that is near and dear to Pinkernell’s heart is the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, which provides an outdoor learning program for youth in the Camas and Washougal school districts. An outdoor enthusiast who splits his retirement time between his Community Chest duties and volunteering at the nearby Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Pinkernell says he loves the fact that every Camas and Washougal student, by the time they leave the sixth grade, will have visited the wildlife refuge and learned how to identify native plants from harmful, invasive plants that threaten the habitat at the refuge.
“It’s a great program,” Pinkernell says. “We give them a very small grant and they are able to provide at least two days of stewardship training for students in Camas and Washougal … now, we have 900 to 1,000 kids a year learning about their environment and going to Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge … and many of those kids would not have had that chance without this program.”
In 2016, the Community Chest grants served more than 15,000 people in Camas and Washougal. Still, Pinkernell says, his group is “not able to grant at the rate the community needs” without getting more donations from businesses and individuals in the east Clark County community.
“Giving to the Community Chest is an easy and efficient way to help people in need in our hometown,” Pinkernell says.
To hear more about the grants awarded by the Community Chest organization throughout Camas and Washougal, visit the organization’s website at www.camaswashougalcommunitychest.org or go to the group’s Facebook site.
People interested in becoming a “Friend of Community Chest” and advocating for the nonprofit within their workplace or community groups, should email Pinkernell at info@CamasWashougalCommunityChest.org.
Donations to the nonprofit are tax deductible and donations can be mailed to Camas Washougal Community Chest, P.O. Box 960, Camas, WA 98607. Donations can also be made online at www.camaswashougalcommunitychest.org/individual-giving.