Salvation Army finds space to sort donations this season

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter


Updated: December 6, 2012, 8:43 PM


On the Web

Who: Salvation Army

What: Stuff-the-Truck toy drive

When: Saturday

Where: Clark County Walmart stores

December always is a busy, bustling month for the Salvation Army. Food for the hungry, toys for needy children and all sorts of other donated stuff passes through the organization’s hands. So far this year, according to business manager Steve Rusk, 700 families have signed up with the Salvation Army to receive toy packs for Christmas.

“Every child will receive an age-appropriate gift,” Rusk said.

Every year, Rusk goes hunting for donated warehouse or commercial space the Salvation Army can use to collect, sort and repack thousands of pounds of community largesse. This year was the first time in his memory, Rusk said, that the space was truly tough to find.

“It wasn’t for lack of trying. I had five commercial agents looking for space for us,” Rusk said. But the responses they got this fall from commercial landlords was mostly: ask me again later. I’ve got paying renters now.

If that’s a good thing overall, because it means the economy is picking up, Rusk said he can’t see the difference in his client case-load. In the year that ended in September 2012, Rusk said, the Salvation Army of Clark County “served a total of 55,538 people, an increase of 19 percent over the prior year.”

Holiday appeals, including red kettle campaigns outside local stores, account for 13 percent of the agency’s entire budget, he said.

So Rusk was starting to get pretty nervous about having sufficient space for the expected flood of donations when Cafaro Northwest Partnership, which owns real estate in Vancouver Plaza, came through. The 13,000-square-foot, wedge-shaped slice of space alongside Bed, Bath & Beyond is about half the 25,000 square feet the Salvation Army usually wants, but Rusk said squeezing into the tighter quarters will be a good exercise for his organization.

Squeezing is literally true, Rusk said: There is no loading dock here, so all donations will move in and out the glass double doors in front. Rusk thanked annual partner Star Rentals for working with him to measure the doors, check its local inventory and then send to Hillsboro for a special delivery of the smallest available lift truck — the only one that can fit through the doors.

Saturday toy drive

Tuesday night was opening night for the space, and several dozen volunteers from Clark Public Utilities were on hand to sort and repackage food that came from Clark County’s recent Interservice Walk & Knock food drive. Rusk said CPU has signed up for several regular slots at the temporary warehouse; other community groups and solo volunteers are absolutely welcome. Check or call 360-892-9050 for details and opportunities.

“I’ve done volunteer work for a bunch of different venues, but this is always the most fun,” said Paul Stewart, who works in CPU’s engineering department. Stewart said it’s always great to do something completely different with his colleagues from work. “It gets to be more like a family,” he said.

The main opportunity Rusk wants to make sure the community knows about is a Stuff-the-Truck toy drive at local Walmart stores on Saturday. Every Walmart location in Clark County is participating, and a distinctive white, 14-foot Salvation Army box truck will be stationed at each store to get stuffed. With donations, that is. At the end of the day, those trucks will rev up and return to the temporary warehouse with the makings of a joyful Christmas for people in need.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525;;;