NVCF returning $1 million Camp Fire donation to Walmart Foundation

North Valley Community Foundation has removed itself as the intermediary for the funds after recent controversy

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In the latest twist involving a $1 million Walmart Foundation gift intended to help the homeless in Chico, the North Valley Community Foundation said Wednesday it was returning the money to Walmart and encouraging them to instead work directly with “local service providers” to determine the next steps.

In an email sent Wednesday morning to Angela McLaughlin, president of the Safe Space Winter Shelter, Jovanni Tricerri of the NVCF said, “At this point, NVCF has removed itself as the intermediary to focus on issues directly related to Camp Fire relief and recovery.”

Walmart originally announced the $1 million donation on Nov. 29, three weeks after the Camp Fire, “to help address the increased needs of the local homeless population affected by the Camp Fire.” That was on top of an additional $1 million donated to support wildfire relief efforts. At the time of the donation, hundreds of evacuees and a good number of transients were living in Walmart’s parking lot in Chico.

In the Nov. 29 press release, Walmart said the funds were going to the NVCF to “support organizations like the Jesus Center, Torres Community Shelter (and) Safe Space Winter Shelter.”

After that, things got more complicated.

Safe Space and Jesus Center originally joined forces for a proposed low-barrier shelter on Orange Street, a project that drew mixed reaction from the community, including a letter of opposition from Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson. Shortly after that, Jesus Center backed out of the partnership, saying it would instead focus on its own long-term homeless project.

That left the direction of the $1 million donation in doubt. And now, it’s taking a direction no one had anticipated — back to Walmart.

When reached Wednesday night, McLaughlin said Safe Space will continue with its goal of opening the low-barrier shelter on Orange Street, and said arrangements had already been made for a discussion with the Walmart Foundation on Thursday morning.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to continue to work directly with Walmart on this critical community initiative and are appreciative of their support,” McLaughlin said.

The email from Tricerri, the director of response and recovery for NVCF, said the foundation was stepping aside so local service providers could “work in a way that aligns with Walmart Foundation’s goals and values in addressing the challenges around homelessness.”

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