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News / Churches & Religion

IMPACT Camas-Washougal’s annual ‘call to action’ grows

Group’s food-packing event, set for June 9 to help families in need

By Doug Flanagan, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: June 1, 2024, 6:06am

WASHOUGAL — IMPACT Camas-Washougal began in 2015 as a call to action from St. Matthew Lutheran Church pastor Bob Barber.

Instead of delivering the final Sunday sermon in his “Be the Difference” series, he told the congregation, “We’re going shopping today.”

Parishioners walked out of the Washougal church and headed to grocery stores, where they purchased about $600 worth of food. They returned to the church and sorted the food into about a dozen boxes, which were given to families to help “get through the monthlong gap between the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer food program,” according to volunteer Scott Friedrich.

It went well enough that Barber decided to turn it into an annual event.

“Our pastor was excited and sure we could pull it off the very next year,” said Brenda Raetz, St. Matthew Lutheran Church’s office secretary and IMPACT Camas-Washougal Committee member. “We reached out to the schools in both the Washougal and Camas school districts, and ever since then we’ve been helping out families.”

How to Help

  • What: IMPACT Camas-Washougal food donation event.
  •  When: Noon June 9.
  •  Where: Parker’s Landing Historical Park at the Port of Camas-Washougal, 24 S. A St., Washougal.
  •  Volunteer: Community members will pack food donations for families in need during the event, which will also feature a barbecue lunch and a performance by the Camas-Washougal Orchestra.
  •  Donate: Online at impactcamaswashougal.org or mail a check to St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 716 Washougal River Road, Washougal, WA, 98671, or bring a check to the church between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
  •  Information: For more information, contact Brenda Raetz at 360-835-5533 or stmatthewlcms@comcast.net.

In the past decade, the event has grown from a semi-spontaneous act of kindness into a “meticulously planned and executed event that serves every school in the Camas and Washougal school districts,” according to a news release, which said the event drew more than 70 volunteers in 2023.

“We have significantly more volunteers from the community now,” Barber said. “It has become a true community event, much more streamlined and efficient. The first couple of years, it took all day to pack 25 or 30 boxes. Now, with the help of the community, it takes about an hour to pack nearly 200 boxes.”

The boxes include about $40 worth of shelf-stable food items as well as a gift card, which families can use to purchase bread, fruit and vegetables.

The event has evolved as it’s grown. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, event leaders decided to turn it into a fundraiser. They solicited money to purchase food in bulk rather than accepting piecemeal donations from community members.

On the day after the event, organizers take the boxes to schools for distribution.

Brenda Schallberger, the coordinator for the Camas School District’s Family-Community Resource Center, said 36 families have regularly visited the Jack, Will and Rob Center seeking food assistance during the 2024-25 school year. Counselors have identified an additional 24 families who will benefit from supplemental groceries.

“When St. Matthew’s called toward the end of the school year to organize the IMPACT Camas-Washougal event, I was so relieved,” Schallberger said. “Working parents will have shelf-stable supplies for their students when they go off to work.”

Nancy Nass-Boon, coordinator for Washougal School District’s family resource center, said that the event has assisted many Washougal families over the years.

“The need in our community continues to grow,” Nass-Boon said. “More families than ever are relying on assistance to make ends meet.”

Event organizers estimate they need $18,000 to purchase enough food and gift cards to fill 200 boxes. They receive funding from public and private donations, as well as grants from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, Camas-Washougal Rotary, the Camas Lions Club and other churches and organizations.

Families have received 1,200 boxes of food from the event since its inception, Raetz said. “We say that we’re ‘bridging the gap’ between the end of the school year and when summer programs might start back up.”