The last year hasn’t been easy for Southwest Washington’s nonprofits.
As in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on community organizations, and many had to struggle to adapt.
Responding to the pandemic required constant pivoting. In July, when the COVID-19 case rate was at its lowest ebb, many community organizations made plans for in-person events — then had to scrap their plans when the delta variant sent cases soaring in September.
Additionally, the need for services in the community skyrocketed, straining organizations’ capacities.
One in four Clark County residents is now food insecure, according to the Clark County Food Bank. Organizations that provide food to the community, including the Clark County Food Bank and Share, have had to increase their efforts while simultaneously adjusting events and programs to meet the demands of the pandemic.
Those efforts have not gone unnoticed by the community.
The holiday season is typically the busiest for community donations, both in terms of services provided and in fundraising. This year is no different. In fact, many Clark County nonprofits have seen an increase in charitable donations and engagement this holiday season, with some even breaking records.
If the trend continues, 2021 could ultimately be a big year for Southwest Washington nonprofits.
Community Foundation for Southwest Washington and Murdock Trust
The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington’s marathon fundraising event GiveMore24!, held on Sept. 23, was an early indicator that the holiday season could be big for fundraising.
The event raised more than $3.3 million for local nonprofits, breaking its previous record.
In 2020, $2.9 million was raised.
“We were impressed by the level of generosity that comes out of this community,” said Community Foundation for Southwest Washington spokesperson Maury Harris.
Share and the Clark County Food Bank received the most donations. Share raised $109,426 from 251 donors; the food bank raised $97,128 from 214 donors.
Both organizations serve a large population in Clark County, including those struggling with food insecurity, poverty and homelessness.
It was only the beginning. Over the next few months, Share, the Clark County Food Bank and other nonprofits continued to wage successful fundraising campaigns, and many hope to see even more engagement as the year reaches its end.
It’s a sign that, despite deep financial strain experienced by so many in the community, the need in Southwest Washington is recognized, and those with means are willing to provide support.
“We’re finding that citizens have really stepped up providing support for nonprofits this year,” said Steve Moore, CEO of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, a Vancouver-based organization that provides grants to nonprofits throughout the Northwest. “They recognize that these organizations are challenged to provide their services. In most cases, their services have expanded in terms of outreach. But people have really come together as communities.”
Moore pointed out how organizations like the Clark County Food Bank, the Vancouver Symphony, the Northwest Furniture Bank and many others have done so much work this year to increase their outreach and to meet the needs of the community.
“We’re going to continue to see challenges ahead, particularly as it relates to education, health care and human services,” Moore said. “But I think one of the great things about Clark County and Vancouver is that there are a lot of entrepreneurial people and great civic engagement. There’s a very high percentage of community members wanting to make a difference.”
Another sign of increased fundraising and engagement this year: By the end of 2021, the Murdock Trust will have provided a record number of grants for Northwest nonprofits, according to Moore.
Clark County Food Bank
The food bank’s operations were severely disrupted by the pandemic. Throughout 2021, however, the organization made many efforts to meet the needs of the community.
“COVID-19 interrupted so much of normal life for everyone, and this was especially true for people in our community who experience hunger,” said food bank spokesperson Alan Hamilton. “With the broken food supply chain and the inability to use common methods of getting food, people in poverty have experienced an extra amount of challenge.”
Great community engagement made meeting the demands of those struggling possible.
“The generosity of so many people and organizations and businesses were really felt,” Hamilton said. “They funded the work of the food bank, and we have never run out of food.”
Challenges for the organization persist. Extra efforts are still necessary to reduce contact, such as drive-thru food pickup and home deliveries.
Moore said that, despite great fundraising efforts at GiveMore24! and elsewhere, his organization has seen a lower amount of donations compared with 2020.
But the holiday season remains, and Moore hopes to see some increased engagement.
One event the organizations was particularly excited about: Walk & Knock, Clark County’s huge annual food drive that collects food and donates it to the Clark County Food Bank, which was held Dec. 4.
This year, the event was altered due to the pandemic. Instead of having volunteers pick up food from porches, donations were accepted at drop-off locations throughout the county.
The event raised 88,000 pounds of food for the food bank, as well as financial donations.
“There are many ways that people can give, including volunteering, donating food like we saw so generously at Walk & Knock, and even just being an advocate and a voice of kindness for those whose lives are challenged during this time of year,” Hamilton said.
Another organization that has made many adjustments to meet the needs of the community this year is Share, the Vancouver-based nonprofit that provides food, shelter and other services to the homeless.
The organization raised lots of donations this year, such as at GiveMore24! and during Giving Tuesday, the fundraising event held on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.
During Giving Tuesday, the organization raised nearly $30,000 for its Backpack Program, which provides over 525,000 pounds of food to schools and those in need.
Those experiencing homelessness face great struggles during the holidays and winter weather, and Share is hosting various fundraising events this holiday season to meet that need.
“One area of high need is volunteers for our Hot Meals program,” said Share spokesperson Jessica Lightheart. “Since the public health crisis hit last year, we have seen the need for meals more than double. In February of 2020, we served about 3,400 meals and in October 2020 we served more than 9,000 meals. Last month, we served 7,670.”
Share is in the middle of its Holiday Cheer Program, which includes asking for new items for clients via an online wish list.
According to Lightheart, it’s been a good year in terms of donations for Share, and end-of-year giving could make it a great year.
The organization is looking forward to 2022. An in-person gala, the first for Share since the pandemic began, will be held in April.
The theme? “Grease.”
“We’ve been telling folks to dress in their best ’50s vintage or break out that poodle skirt and leather biker jacket!” Lightheart said.
One local nonprofit that is feeling the holiday spirit this season is Loving Them Forward, a Vancouver-based organization that supports local caregivers.
In 2020, Loving Them Forward President Christina Keys spearheaded an event called Caregivers Christmas, where volunteers assembled and distributed gift bags to local caregivers.
The idea was to give back to those who give so much, especially during the pandemic.
Last year, 400 gift bags were assembled in Keys’ garage. This year, thanks to community support and additional sponsors, the nonprofit nearly quadrupled its efforts, assembling some 1,500 gift bags.
Over 100 volunteers representing more than 50 community organizations participated in the event, which was held Tuesday at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
At 11 a.m., a long line of cars formed outside the event center, which was decorated festively: Masked Santas and elves greeted caregivers and their families as they drove through a building to pick up their gift bag.
The drive-thru aspect limited contact between volunteers and caregivers, many of whom strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines because they care for immunocompromised patients and family members.
Keys walked through the event in a daze, overwhelmed by the generosity around her.
“The holidays can be so hard for caregivers,” she said. “In the back of our minds, we always know that this could be our last Christmas with those we care for.”
The event felt indicative of the giving spirit filling Clark County this holiday season.
With the pandemic, so many have experienced so much loss this year. So many feel inspired to give back, to support those in need, to care for their communities.
You could see it in the smiles of the volunteers and in the tears welling up in Keys’ eyes.
“It’s a good day to be a caregiver in Clark County,” she said.