By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

For almost two decades, Keizer United has been a fundraising arm for a rotating cast of other, small non-profits located in Keizer.

In some ways, that was a useful set-up. For instance, it allowed organizations to pool fundraising resources. However, the changing roster of supported agencies left Keizer United itself without a tangible identity.

It came to a head when the current chair of the group, Meredith Mooney, met with Mayor Cathy Clark last year in the wake of being denied financial support from the city during budgeting season.

“Cathy asked, ‘What is Keizer United?’ We got together later and I told her what I thought it could be,” Mooney said.

Mooney envisioned a new mission for the group as a meeting ground for a wider array of interests and fostering force for collaboration. Keizer United would become a Community Partnership Team, supplying lunch and inviting anyone on a mission to serve the community to join them.

“Whether you are a neighbor or on city council, you are welcome at this table for a meal but, more importantly, organic collaboration,” Mooney said.

That might seem like a hazy realignment of Keizer United’s mission, but it’s already yielding tangible results. At a Keizer United meeting Monday, May 21, two of the featured presenters were Salem Harvest’s Elise Bauman and Simonka Place’s Kathy Smith.

Salem Harvest connects famers and backyard growers with volunteer pickers who harvest crops from fava beans to fruit for other area organizations like the Marion-Polk Food Share.

“There is lots of food being wasted at the farm level because their contracts are filled, the food isn’t pleasing to the eye or the demand dries up,” Bauman said.

An estimated 400,000 pounds of locally-grown food is wasted each season. Volunteers who help harvest are permitted to keep half of what they pick and the other half goes to families and organizations in need.

Farmers and volunteers can sign up at the group’s website, www.salemharvest.org.

Simonka Place serves women in need of shelter and supportive services on River Road North in Keizer. Smith attended the meeting in hope of finding out how the women the shelter serve might give back to the community that has supported them over the years.

“Keizer is an amazing community. We don’t even have to ask and donations come pouring in,” Smith said. “We want to show how much we appreciate that generosity.”

Bauman said she had reached out to the group once before but talks sputtered over transportation issues. In the intervening time, she’d found local churches willing to donate their vans to help transport groups of harvesters to local sites.

“I think it would be empowering for our women to go and be involved in harvesting the food themselves,” Smith said.

By the end of the meeting, the two women were talking about a path forward.

Another recent success was matching Keizer Elementary School, which needed bike helmets for students riding to school with a reduced-cost helmet program offered through the Keizer Traffic Safety, Pedestrian and Bikeways committee.

“We want to create investment in the community and be part of the solution instead of just complaining about the problems,” said Gary Steiner, a current member of the board who was also one of the Keizer United founders two decades ago.

When it came time to request funding assistance from the City of Keizer this year, Mooney had no reservations in making the ask, and it was approved with a $2,000 matching contribution from the Salem Leadership Foundation.

Mooney said working with CPT organizations in Salem helped lay the groundwork for the changes at Keizer United.

“There are a handful of CPTs in Salem and they get $5,000 from the city divided among them. They are able to leverage that into $265,000 in donations and other in-kind services. We want to do something like that in Keizer,” Mooney said.