A strong foundation helps members give back at the Oakdale Area Chamber of Commerce “Creating opportunities for members to share”

Volunteers pass out donuts and coffee at the Holiday Helping Hands wrap-a-thon, hosted yearly at Tartan High School.

Community events, such as the annual golf tournament, are a great opportunity for members to network with the community.

Spring Fling attendees have countless food and beverage options to choose from as part of their ticket; it's an opportunity to check out new local businesses and connect with neighbors.

Chamber members are dressed to impress at Spring Fling.

Business owners and local residents make new connections over wine, food and games at Spring Fling.

Community programming and public events offer a variety of opportunities for businesses to network with residents and each other


At the Oakdale Area Chamber of Commerce (OACC), a lot of good ideas start in the basement. 

Back in 1985, the idea for the chamber was hatched in the lower level of Duke's Pizza, at the urging of the Oakdale City Council. Founding members hoped to start an organization that would help both local businesses and residents thrive.

"There's the business side of it: networking, getting to know each other," says founding member Tony Schwartz. "But it's always been something that we have done to give back to the community."

A few years after the chamber's founding, the OACC came up with another bright idea in member Larry Eberhard's basement: They went to Washington County Community Services and identified a handful of area families who were in need of a little help during the holiday season. 

"We went out, we shopped and we wrapped the presents," says Schwartz. "Then we dressed up as Santa Claus, went to those houses and gave them to kids. We did maybe eight or 10 houses, if that, the first few years. Last year, we helped over 300 kids."

After more than 25 years, the OACC's Holiday Helping Hands program is constantly increasing its impact. Now, Tartan High School students host an annual wrap-a-thon in the school cafeteria and many accompany chamber members on deliveries, dressed up as elves. 

In addition to Holiday Helping Hands, the chamber runs a scholarship program for students within ISD 622 and funds clubs such as DECA, the entrepreneurship group at Tartan.

To raise money for its programs, the chamber hosts a variety of annual public events. In late April, it puts on Spring Fling, a social event open to anyone over 21 that's hosted in, of course, a basement. It's held in the brightly lit hall of Guardian Angels Church, complete with stained glass windows and plenty of room to mingle. 

Furlong's Liquor brings beer, wine and spirits for guests to sip on, while local food vendors come and provide tastings. Guests can purchase raffle tickets and participate in other games throughout the night, with all proceeds going toward the OACC's community programs.

Spring Fling is a great time for member businesses to network with each other and the community. Members often sponsor certain aspects of the event, from catering to promotional materials. They get their names out there while helping raise money for a good cause.

"You've got all these community members that live and work right around where you are. This is your chance to wow them, show them what you've got!" says Schwartz.

The OACC provides additional networking opportunities through monthly luncheons, often attended by representatives from The City of Oakdale and guest speakers from a variety of professions. 

For Schwartz, the way to build business is to build relationships. While being a part of the chamber has helped him build deep, lifelong friendships through community service, it has also helped him build his clientele through networking and referrals.

After 34 years with the Oakdale Area Chamber of Commerce, Schwartz loves to reminisce about its founding, while looking forward to its continued growth.


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