It’s impossible not to see the struggles of our community when visiting the Riverwalk or supporting the local stores and restaurants. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Astoria hard, and has placed countless obstacles for many just trying to get back on their feet.
The issues with houselessness are vast and complicated. Health and safety risks pose dangerous threats to Astoria’s homeless citizens and these risks worsen during winter, when living out of a car or on the street are lethal, as temperatures drop and winds pick up.
A beacon of hope exists, however, in the Astoria Warming Center. A modest organization with a huge heart, the Center provides overnight shelter during winter months. Located at the First United Methodist Church, the Center exists solely to support people in need, which includes those experiencing homelessness. Like many beacons of home, the Center relies heavily on donations to keep their doors open. This year that, reliance has increased, as the Center moves toward paid employees.
This reliance was one of the many reasons Wauna Credit Union (WCU) employees voted to support the Astoria Warming Center as the 2020 official credit union charity.
“When we were choosing our annual charity, the Astoria Warming Center was an obvious choice,” said Kristen DeForrest, a member of the WCU Operations team, and a huge supporter of the Warming Center. “Many of our employees live in Astoria and see the good work they do every day.”
Kristen has long volunteered for the Center, and knows how important the role it has in helping the people of Astoria, “We see so many folks every day who just need a little help,” she said, “just giving a warm room to sleep when the temperature starts to dip is a huge benefit.”
Kristen was recently on hand to present a check for $11,299.09 to the Astoria Warming Center’s Board Member, Annie Martin, longtime Center Coordinator, Cheryl Paul, and Kathleen Sullivan, the Center’s new Executive Director. Just shy of $12,000, the donation was raised exclusively by WCU employees.
“Thank you so much for this incredibly generous donation! It means even more that your employees chose us! Please thank your employees for us. Wow! We’re quite choked up. Thank you, Wauna Credit Union,” said Sullivan. “We couldn’t continue without such kindness from the community!”
“The Astoria Warming Center depends on our community partners in order to serve those most in need, Annie Martin added. “We are grateful to the Astoria First United Methodist Church who allows us to use their first level for the center. We also are grateful for the local restaurants who are still donating meals despite the mandated closures due to COVID-19.”
Cheryl Paul, the Center Coordinator for a number of years, said she was proud that the Astoria Warming Center offers up to 28 beds on the nights they are open, as well as offering the public showers on Wednesday afternoons from noon to 4:00PM. “It has been so important to people with nowhere else to go, to have a safe, warm place to get out of the winter weather. Thank you, WCU employees!”
Annually, WUC chooses a new corporate charity to support through employee contributions and volunteer work. For 2021, the employees chose the Amani Center in St Helens www.amanicenter.org. The Amani Center (The Columbia County Child Abuse Assessment Center) is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to assist our community in responding to child abuse.