Among the countless cancellations wrought by the pandemic this year was the annual United Way of the Columbia Gorge fall gala, which is normally one of the organization’s primary fundraisers. Other United Way fundraising events also have been canceled including the annual holiday benefit concert.

The gala alone usually brings in more than $100,000, according to Christine Finson, UWCG executive director. 

“Normally we award about $250,000 annually, pretty much all of it from our fundraisers,” Finson said. The UWCG serves programs in Hood River, Klickitat, Sherman, Skamania and Wasco counties. Many organizations in these communities rely on annual United Way funding to provide vital services, including food pantries, shelter services and youth programs.

 With no fundraisers happening this year, UWCG is trying to raise money in other ways, including contacting past donors and sending mailers. The organization has also created a video showing the important work it does in Gorge communities, which is being emailed and pushed out on social media.

“It’s hard to execute virtual fundraising,” Finson said. Without the usual fundraising events, the UWCG board is working to get the word out in Gorge communities that funding needs are still abundant — now more than ever — and will continue. “We don’t want to leave anyone behind,” she said. The UWCG hopes to raise $250,000 by the end of the year to support organizations and programs during 2021. During the fall push, Finson said the goal is to raise $100,000; so far, about $22,000 has been raised.  

The organization proved to be a vital lifeline this year when the pandemic hit. It teamed with the Healthy Gorge Initiative — a collaboration of nonprofits, healthcare providers and other agencies, with support from Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital — to create the COVID-19 Gorge Community Response Fund. The fund provided immediate aid for organizations serving at-risk populations through a streamlined application and approval process, which continues.

The fund has raised more than $375,000 from funding partners and individuals, and has allocated over $179,000 so far, according to Finson. The City of Hood River donated $70,000 of its CARES Act funding to the United Way COVID-19 fund. 

“I think it’s making a big impact,” Finson said. She added that UWCG has a respected “process in place” to allocate money. “The COVID-19 fund shows the trust that a lot of those agencies (the City of Hood River and foundations) put in us that we know how to impact the community and allocate those funds.”

Money raised during the fall fundraising push will go to the UWCG general fund, said Finson. Monies in the COVID-19 fund have to be spent by the end of the year. “We really need to be able to support our agencies next year separate from that,” she said. 

Donations to United Way of the Columbia Gorge can be made online at, or by mailing a check to P.O. Box 2, Hood River, OR 97031, or by calling 541-386-6100. 


Janet Cook is editor of The Gorge magazine. The new Fall 2020 edition of the magazine contains an article on United Way, “Providing Help for the Helpers,” by Don Campbell.

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