Helping the helpers

Mark Gomolski loads food into a box while volunteering at the Agape House in Hermiston in 2018. The Agape House was one of several area food pantries to receive a $25,000 donations from Amazon Web Services in June 2020.

HERMISTON — Communities in Umatilla and Morrow counties are getting a $520,000 boost from Amazon Web Services.

The company is donating the money it was set to receive from Umatilla Electric Cooperative, according to a news release from UEC.

The not-for-profit, member-owned utility operates at cost and refunds profits to its members through its Capital Credits program, based on the amount of power a customer purchased. Amazon is working with UEC to donate its share of the refund to provide relief from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The money is divided between the following entities:

  • $250,000 to UEC and Hermiston Energy Services to provide assistance to low-income households struggling to pay their utility bills. According to the release, the money is enough to cover the average energy bill for more than 1,000 households for two months.
  • $25,000 each to the Irrigon Food Pantry, Stanfield Food Basket, Pendleton’s Community Outreach Food Pantry, the Agape House in Hermiston and Boardman’s food pantry.
  • $20,000 to the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon (CAPECO) for its senior citizen meal program.
  • $25,000 each to Morrow County, Umatilla and Hermiston school districts and the InterMountain Edcuation Service District to improve students’ access to virtual learning from home.
  • $25,000 to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The news release stated that “additional funds will be earmarked to help respond to pandemic-related community needs as they are identified in the future.”

At the Hermiston City Council meeting on June 22, city councilors and staff expressed their thanks for the investment in their community. City Manager Byron Smith said the money was a “really great contribution for what is becoming a large employer in our area,” and Mayor David Drotzmann said he was grateful that even though Amazon could have just kept the money, they decided to be a good community partner instead.

Hermiston Energy Services and Umatilla Electric Cooperative also expressed their thanks in the news release about the donation from Amazon Web Services.

“The effectiveness and reach of the UCARE payment assistance program will be amplified by our collaboration with AWS,” said Lisa McMeen, UEC’s vice president of administration. “With such uncertainty and hardship caused by the pandemic, it is great to work with trusted partners like AWS to keep our community operating at this time.”

In a separate June 11 news release, Umatilla School District announced that Amazon Web Services had also become a sponsor of the district’s robotics program and other after-school programs related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

According to Superintendent Heidi Sipe, before school was closed students gave guests from the company a tour and highlighted the needs for the STEM programs.

Following the visit, Amazon donated $70,000 for equipment, such as 3D printers, cameras, computers and robot parts. After the schools closed, they donated additional laptops to help the programs make the jump to distance learning.

“Years ago, we dreamed of having the type of technology to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow,” Sipe said in a statement. “It’s amazing to think that today, we have the technology and the jobs for students right here in Umatilla.”

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