Generous community members raised about $40,000 to boost local schools at the second annual "Gorge Grape Escape" in Hood River.
The donations represented a 30 percent increase over last year's event. The Feb. 16 event drew more than 200 people, who nibbled on appetizers and sampled Northwest wines while bidding on silent and live auction items.
"It's amazing to watch first-hand the outpouring of support our community gives to kids," said Rick George, principal of Henkle Middle School.
"The response to our efforts has shown how important education is to this community," added Ronda Crumpacker, president of the White Salmon Valley Education Foundation (WSVEF). "We were very pleased with the final numbers, and what this will mean for our schools."
The Gorge Grape Escape is the WSVEF's major fundraising event of the year.
The WSVEF is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation dedicated to enhancing the quality of public education within the White Salmon-Bingen community by creating a stable source of supplemental funding for curriculum enhancement and investment in teachers.
The big-ticket items of the night were two Scott road bikes, which sold for $2,300 each, and two dinners with chef Peter McNab, which sold for $1,900 each. Student artwork was sold in a silent auction, and brought in another $2,700.
"The generosity of the people in this area was most apparent during the special appeal part of the evening, when 25 participants pledged $14,900, all of which will go to the WSVEF endowment fund," Crumpacker said.
Generally, at least 25 percent of all donations go to the endowment fund to continue the WSVEF's work into the future. "It's our plan to make the work of this generation help fund the educational needs of those to come," said Crumpacker.
In addition, Jack and Connie Bloxom and Underwood Fruit have put forth an additional challenge to residents of the White Salmon Valley School District: They have pledged $10,000 to the WSVEF, if community members will match that amount. This is the second challenge to the community. Wally and Priscilla Stevenson have pledged $50,000 for the next two years if matching funds are raised.
Riverview Community Bank also made a donation of $5,000 to the Foundation.
And while the group has been successful in raising money for local schools, they don't want people to think the job is done yet.
"Stressed state and federal budgets have had our schools doing a lot of belt tightening, and our contributions are just a drop in the overall budget bucket," said Crumpacker. "The WSVEF's work will allow children in our small, rural community to have some of the resources that are standard in larger, urban schools."
School district Superintendent Dale Palmer agrees.
"Public school spending in Washington state needs to increase by 45 percent to reach state and federal learning goals," he explained. "Since this won't happen for many years, we value the support of the education foundation to help us meet those goals."
"As the enrollment of White Salmon Valley School District has slowly declined and with it, state funding, it is wonderful to know that students and district staff members have the support of generous community members," added Malcolm Dennis, principal of Columbia High School. "As seen by the recent grant requests, the needs are many. We are pleased and excited for this wonderful support. Thank you."
It's not too late to get involved and make a donation. The WSVEF's Founder's Drive continues through April 10. Everyone who makes a contribution before then will receive recognition as a "founding member" of the organization.
To make donations, go to: www.wsvef.org, or call (509) 493-1175.