Washougal nonprofit to hold community open house Oct. 2
WASHOUGAL — In the early months of January 2014, a movement was formed to feed the hungry and provide comfort to those in need in the area of Washougal.
Today, the program has grown to a weekly outreach to the homeless, elderly, teenagers, and anyone who is in need. ReFuel Washougal feeds some 50 people every Friday evening as well as provides clothing, sack lunches, shelter from severe weather, and genuine compassion to thousands every year.
“Washougal, I hope, is a good example of what can happen when the city and the churches and nonprofits and businesses all work together,” said city liaison to ReFuel, Rose Jewell. “I think ReFuel’s a wonderful example of community, real community.”
To date, the nonprofit has served over 13,000 meals and held numerous winter weather shelters. On average, between 55 and 80 people make use of meals each week, with nearly 120 on some nights.
On Oct. 2, ReFuel will host a community open house at the Washougal Community Center from 5 to 7 p.m. The group will outline their vision for 2020, which includes expanding staff and doing more outreach events and services.
The initial and continuing goal of ReFuel was to connect other nonprofits and organizations in the area to improve efficiently and expand impact. The city coordinated with local churches to see where each could serve, rather than having them all do a little of everything, Jewell said.
According to ReFuel, 80 percent of the over 1,000 homeless in Clark County, used to live in the community in which they are now homeless. In addition to the homeless, many seniors and teenagers also depend on the organization.
“These are people from our community who grew up here or were employed here,” said Robert Barber, chair of the board for ReFuel. “Now, because of various circumstances, some that may not be any fault of their own, they got laid off, prices for apartments and housing have gone up, could be any number of reasons that they find themselves without a home. I think that’s what encourages me to be involved. I can make a difference right here.”
For three months they tested the idea with help from the Unite Coalition. Each Friday, they held a one hour meal time, which then grew to two hours. After the success of the trial run, the city began funding the program and accepting donations, allowing area churches and nonprofits to provide the volunteers.
Local businesses like Starbucks, are also involved in supplying resources and funding.
Currently, ReFuel receives $5,200 a year from the city, and procures the remainder of its funds through donations. Each meal costs the organization about $3; translating to “Three for Free.”
“About three and a half years ago, we found there was a group of people who wanted to financially help support because it was costing more than what the city was putting in,” Jewell said. “The idea was eventually they would kind of become their own entity. So there was a board created, and we did some fundraising, and that kind of really helped bolster the program quite a bit.”
The meals are prepared and served at Washougal’s Community Center, which has the only commercial kitchen available for this type of work in all of east county, Jewell said.
The location is hosted by the city in the hope that individuals who would not seek aid inside a church or nonprofit for fear of an agenda, would come to receive services, Jewell said.
“It’s kind of a neutral place, and sometimes people don’t realize that government can do good,” Jewell said. “Everybody that participates truly has a heart and love for Washougal. They volunteer a lot of hours, and it takes a lot of time to do this position, but it is so worth while. It’s really worth while.”
Whenever the weather is severe or the outside temperature drops to 30 degrees or below, the group also opens its Severe Weather Shelter. Held in the Washougal Community Center, the shelter opens overnight to allow homeless to have a warm, dry place to sleep.
The shelter works in conjunction with the Salvation Army Church, which opens their own shelter in poor weather during the day, and then directs its guests to ReFuel for the night.
With only 230 permanent beds for those in need across Clark County, the shelters are desperately needed especially in east county, Barber said.
“As we look forward to the to, you know, 2020 I’m hoping we can identify what other needs might be out there,” Barber said. “And how best to meet those needs in a way that’s not not just doing a handout, but as I mentioned a hand up, encouraging people as they try to get back on their feet and moving forward in life.”
ReFuel also accepts clothing donations of socks, underwear, coats, hats, and blankets. These are then distributed directly to those at the shelter or meal nights, or to Washougal police officers who hand them out to the homeless.
ReFuel hopes to add staff members for it’s overnight Severe Weather Shelter as well as move to doing two nights a week with meals for the community.
If you would like more information on ReFuel Washougal, would like to partner with them by contributing clothing or finances or would like more information on the open house on Oct. 2, visit the website at www.refuelwashougal.org or reach out to Rose Jewell at Rose.Jewell@cityofwashougal.us.