Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce seeking support

Yaneek Smith

Press Contributing Writer

For just about any major event taking place in Oak Harbor, the village’s chamber of commerce plays a role to serve the community.
Think of the Easter Egg & Candy Hunt, the Independence Day Celebration and fireworks, the community-wide garage sale days, the Apple Festival, the downtown trick-or-treat and the Olde-fashioned Christmas celebration. Executive Director Valerie Winterfield, now in her 15th year at the chamber and the only full-time employee of the organization, has a part-time assistant, Tabitha Davis.
Winterfield discussed some of the challenges facing the chamber.
“The Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization,” she said. “We are not funded by levies or tax dollars. Our funding sources are memberships, sponsorships and the Apple Festival. Historically, the businesses have been providing all of the support for community events, as we do not charge admission. With rising costs each year, we are asking the public to help support these events. Through the Chamber Foundation, community members’ donations are considered non-taxable charitable donations.
“We’ve been doing these events for 50 years, on average. The fireworks have doubled in cost, the sanitation cost goes up, but we haven’t raised the membership dues or an Apple Festival space. We don’t want to charge more. The way we can make that work is if the public helps a little bit. If every household in the Benton-Carroll-Salem area gave $5 per month, that would cover everything,” she said. “If we all just give a little, that adds up. Our volunteer numbers are down, so we’re doing more with less. There are so many people that make these things happen. If we spread out the burden, it becomes manageable. We’re not in dire straits, but we are looking at the big picture, and costs are going up. In five to 10 years, where are we going to be?
“Most of the events are traditions that parents or grandparents went to, and now they’re taking their kids to. It runs generations deep. The biggest thing is they provide something family-friendly to do and are deep-rooted traditions that we want to continue,” she said. “People plan reunions for Apple Festival weekend, for example. The Easter Egg Hunt has been going on for about 60 years, and the Apple Festival will be in its 44th year. I think the cool thing is that it’s a tradition.
“You run into people that you see from school. In a small town, people are friendly; you see familiar faces – teachers, bosses. I think it’s different, it’s not something that you get sometimes. It’s what makes small towns special,” she said.
“Oak Harbor is a special place to me, but I think everyone would say their town is special to them. People who have moved here from a bigger place, they say, ‘It’s so much different from where I come – it’s nicer,’” she said.
Donations to the chamber may be sent to 161 West Water St., Oak Harbor, OH 43449. There is also an online campaign via Fundly at https://fundly.com/oak-harbor-chamber-community-campaign.


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