Donation to YMCA Camps Rises from the Ashes of an REI Store Fire

May 27, 2011 6:10 PM ET

Donation to YMCA Camps Rises from the Ashes of an REI Store Fire

A fire at REI's Eugene, Oregon, store last August left us with more than $1 million worth of slightly smoke-damaged clothing and gear. It was still in usable condition, but deemed unsellable.

What to do? We quickly began brainstorming how best to make use of the product and avoid sending it all to the landfill.

While REI has a history of working with nonprofit partners, this situation presented a unique challenge. We needed to identify an organization that could handle such a large amount of products—ranging from fleece jackets to bike helmets—that also needed to be cleaned before they were distributed.

Fortunately, REI connected with YMCA of the USA, which divided the product among more than 15 YMCAs in the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. The donated merchandise will serve kids participating in a wide variety of programs this summer, from urban after-school activities to overnight camps.

Because of the contribution, Stephanie Lauth, senior program director at YMCA's Camp Whittle in the San Bernardino National Forest, will offer a new backpacking program to round out the camp's regular summer offerings. An avid hiker herself, Stephanie is excited to teach kids packing and hiking basics.

"We've never had a backpacking program here before. With this donation, we'll be able to give kids a real backpacking experience," she says. Campers will be outfitted with backpacks, tents, sleeping pads, stoves and other gear recovered from the Eugene store fire for a 2-day adventure on a nearby segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. Kids will check out the equipment, including clothing, and return it at the end of the week, so campers will benefit for many seasons to come.

"Many of the 3,000-plus kids who attend Camp Whittle each summer are low-income children sponsored by 'camperships,'" says Lorren Repton, sales and marketing director for Camping Services of the Los Angeles Metropolitan YMCA. "This donation will help us enable a better experience for those who come to camp and don't have the equipment they need."

In San Francisco, 14 YMCA branches serving 50,000 kids a year will also reap the benefits of the REI donation. One recipient is the YBike Program, which runs citywide bike and traffic safety programs in elementary schools and makes it possible for hundreds of kids to ride bikes for the first time. The YBike staff use 250 bikes in their programs, and they were overjoyed to receive bike parts and equipment such as pumps, gloves, helmets, locks, grips and fenders to distribute to students in need.

"We don't have a lot of resources to buy bike and safety equipment," says Ben Caldwell, YBike Program director. "This donation has been a terrific help to our organization and the youth we serve."

"Thankfully, this type of adversity—a store fire—isn't something the co-op experiences every day," shares David Jayo, REI's corporate giving program manager. "But we're grateful that we've been able to turn a very unfortunate circumstance into an opportunity to help get kids outside through YMCA's programs—this summer and for years to come."

To learn how REI partners in local communities across the country, visit the stewardship section.