As need soars, charities rise to the challenge

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Portrait

For more information on life in Clark County, visit www.columbian.com/portrait.

Notable Clark County charities mentioned in this story

• Share Inc.: http://sharevancouver.org/

• Clark County Food Bank: http://clarkcountyfoodbank.org/

• Interservice Walk & Knock: http://walkandknock.org/

• Murdock Trust: http://murdock-trust.org/

• Community Foundation for Southwest Washington: http://cfsww.org/

• Americans Building Community: http://americansbuildingcommunity.wordpress.com/

• Empower Up: http://empowerupnow.org/

• Dream Big Community Center: http://dreambigcc.org/

• Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.ridgefieldfriends.org/

• Friends of the Vancouver Symphony: http://vancouversymphony.org/friends.php

• YWCA Clark County: http://ywcaclarkcounty.com/

Clark County charities have been weathering tough times lately. There’s the grinding on of the Great Recession with all its resulting budget cuts, layoffs and foreclosures. Local charities are somehow expected to pick up all that slack — with emergency food, cash assistance, places to stay, people who can help — even while their own funding is on the wane.

“We are expecting to face some serious problems in 2012,” said Diane McWithey, the executive director of Share, a leading provider of services to Clark County’s hungry and homeless. Stimulus dollars from the federal government are drying up, she said, while the need for housing assistance keeps rising.

“The need is absolutely greater than ever,” said James Fitzgerald, manager of the Clark County Food Bank, which has set a new distribution record — 10,000 food boxes per month. “We are seeing more clients, and the agencies we serve are seeing more clients.”

The news is the same for the Salvation Army, which distributes emergency food and cash assistance, and the YWCA, which helps women in crisis and victims of domestic violence. Both had to cut staff hours in 2011.

Most local charities are reporting soaring need and shrinking resources. So it’s nice to be able to report Clark County rising to the occasion.

For one thing, go check out the $4.2 million box that recently rose on Northeast 47th Avenue — the new headquarters and warehouse for the Clark County Food Bank, which supplies many of the county’s smaller food pantries. Boosters beat the bushes for years to collect that money. Last year, they made the switch from cramped, leased space to this roomy new facility.

Interservice Walk & Knock continues to be the county’s premier charitable event. Thousands of volunteers — families, churches, student groups, civic associations of all sorts, plus a ham radio club to handle countywide coordination — all pitch in to scour the streets for food donations that wind up feeding the hungry in our community.

It’s an entirely homegrown project that’s collected millions of pounds of food over the years. In 2009, Walk & Knock marked its 25th anniversary by breaking all previous collection records, with a haul of 162 tons of food plus $50,000 in cash and checks.

“It just boggles your mind,” the late A.C. “Bud” Pasmore, one of the original masterminds behind Walk & Knock, said before his death in 2010. “It’s grown far beyond anything we ever expected.” Interservice Walk & Knock is the first Saturday of every December; there’s also a National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive every May.

Meanwhile, Clark County’s network of charities and nonprofits has soldiered on in lean times — from regional foundations like the Murdock Trust and the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, occupying posh office space and writing big checks, to mom-and-pop do-gooder efforts organized around someone’s kitchen table.

Americans Building Community has brought folks together to paint, mend and polish homes in Vancouver’s Rose Village neighborhood — and is starting to spread to adjoining neighborhoods. Empower Up recycles electronics, keeping hazardous waste out of landfills and reselling technology to people who need the discount. The Dream Big Community Center has kicked off a campaign to look after the needs of at-risk teenagers so they can form and follow their dreams.

The Cafe Femenino Foundation, started by a team of local women, works to get a fair deal for coffee growers south of the border. The Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge works to get a fair deal for herons and hawks.

The Friends of the Vancouver Symphony aims to keep the celebrated local orchestra playing. The Friends and Foundation of the Camas Public Library wants to keep east county’s books moving.

There are hundreds of Clark County charitable and nonprofit organizations registered with the Washington Secretary of State. They range from tiny — or even inactive — to huge; and, if not from A to Z, at least from Acupuncture Relief Project (providing free acupuncture clinics to places hit by disaster) and the Animal Lost and Found to the Yacolt/Amboy PTA and YWCA Clark County.

But there are still many more local charities than that. More than 1,000 agencies in Clark County have tax-exempt status on file with the Internal Revenue Service — meaning their donors can deduct their contributions — but don’t have to register with the state because they take in less than $25,000 per year. Organizations whose sole purpose is religious or political also do not have to be registered with the state.

To keep tabs on local charities, including how much money they took in and how much they spent on charitable programs, visit the Secretary of State’s Web site, http://www.secstate.wa.gov/charities. Click the link titled “Search charities and commercial fundraiser database,” then select Clark County.