It takes a village and a credit card.
That’s why the Toledo Community Foundation was formed last year by President Cyndi Philbrook, Vice President Bill Moore and seven other Toledo stalwarts as board members.
Its mission is to support the Toledo School District and its students.
Moore served on the Toledo School Board for 24 years until retiring in 2015, spending some of those years as president. This week he recalled to The Chronicle, with a tear welling in his eye, the struggles of the students he witnessed firsthand.
The foundation, he believes, can play a role in fixing those problems for students individually and by improving the experience of the student body as a whole. If someone wanted to donate $10,000 specifically for construction of a new playground, that could be done through the foundation.
For case-by-case work, each school in the district receives a credit card from the foundation. Educators work to identify and solve problems that require the funds. Those projects have included buying students backpacks or helping a student’s family pay a bill.
“Our goal is that a student isn't going to be stopped because of money. If somebody wants to play the violin, we find the violin,” Philbrook said. “Whatever their interest is, whatever their goals are, we want to help facilitate that.”
One goal for this year will be to cover certain costs of swimming lessons for third graders such as swimsuits and transportation.
“We’re kind of in the infant stage,” Moore said. “Personally, I don’t know of any smaller communities like ours that have a (community) foundation. We looked at Chehalis, the Chehalis Foundation is kind of the premiere foundation in this area and they do outstanding. Of course, they’ve got revenue from some pretty substantial donors. But we’re very lucky in this community here that we have great support, especially for kids.”
The foundation asks for help through small actions from many donors across Toledo, rather than large sums from a few. Philbrook said this method has allowed folks of all kinds to get involved while cutting down on feelings of burnout.
A Kelso High School graduate, 21-year Toledo resident, Cheese Days Committee member and owner of Farmers Insurance in Toledo, Philbrook said giving back through time or funds was a cornerstone of the Southwest Lewis County city.
“I’m new here,” she said with a laugh, but added later: “In Toledo when somebody complains we say, ‘OK great. how are you going to fix it?’”
Moore, a 1968 Toledo graduate who serves as a commissioner for Toledo Fire District 2, echoed that his drive for volunteer work stemmed from his lifelong experience in the tight-knit community. He sees the same in his peers, noting Toledo Fire District 2 has 17 regular volunteers.
The Toledo Community Foundation’s upcoming Saturday event, a biennial “Toledo Downhome Shindig,” will be sponsored by 14 local organizations and businesses and feature a dessert auction.
“Some people can bake and so they're willing to do things like that. I think finding the strength in your community and then tapping into those strengths when you need them is huge,” Philbrook said.
Proceeds will go to the foundation’s general fund for school children in need. Donating baked goods may not sound like a big deal, but one pie might be auctioned for the cost of a child’s winter coat or another vital service in a district with increasing needs.
According to a chart from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) last updated in May 2021, 52% of Toledo School District students are enrolled in the state’s Free and Reduced-Price Meals Program. Though far from a perfect model of the socioeconomic status of a district, that number is used by OSPI to determine area eligibility for some food assistance programs, per the OSPI website.
And it’s likely the percentage of unenrolled students who qualify for the program is even higher. Toledo School District Superintendent Chris Rust said that data underreports poverty levels in most communities, especially since free lunches for children have been part of the state’s COVID-19 response.
“By the time kids get to high school, they’re embarrassed to apply. There’s a stigma attached to it,” Rust said.
And the district of over 800 students is expected to grow quickly, he said, in part due to a boom in the city's housing permits.
“Shoes, clothing, supplies, athletic fees, ASB cards, all of those small roadblocks, if the foundation wasn’t around, might keep a kid from participating in sports or participating in extracurricular activities, or maybe even coming to school,” said Rust, who serves as a non-voting advisor for the foundation. “They’ve allowed our principals to use purchasing cards to just take care of those expenditures … and it’s been just terrific.”
In rapidly changing times, predicting the future of the foundation is challenging, but its leaders know the team will be able to roll with the punches thanks to a board of passionate members where every vote is given equal value.
Toledo already has a scholarship association, so the foundation’s work will likely stay centered around helping kids still in grades K through 12. Though, one idea Moore floated was assisting students going into vocations.
“The vision really is for it to go on as a legacy, so I don't want to be the president all the time. He doesn't want to be the vice president. We want to bring young people in and have them take over, have them work through the system,” Philbrook said.
To learn more or donate, visit toledowafoundation.com.