Tenino, Washington is printing wooden money to help residents through the pandemic

Loren Ackerman holds a piece of wooden money he printed on an 1890s-era press in Tenino, Washington.

(CNN)As businesses struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic and a record number of Americans have lost their jobs, one small city in Washington state put forth a creative solution to help its neediest residents pull through: printing their own money, out of wood.

In Tenino -- a community of less than 2,000 people halfway between Seattle and Portland -- residents who can demonstrate an economic hardship caused by the pandemic can receive up to $300 a month in wooden dollars, subsidized by a City Hall grant program.
The bills are made of wood veneer and are each worth $25. They can be used to purchase necessities and services from licensed or certified providers, as specified in the guidelines by Tenino's City Hall.
    The wooden dollars cannot be redeemed for cash -- the maximum change allowed is 99 cents -- and they can't be used to purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco or marijuana, which is legal in Washington state.
    Many stores and restaurants in Tenino now accept this alternative currency, which they can exchange for US Dollars at City Hall.
    "We basically treat the wood money just like cash," Chris Hamilton, the store manager at Tenino Market Fresh, told CNN. People have used the wooden bills to purchase groceries and home repair items at his shop.
    A sign on a business in Tenino, Washington, says they will be accepting wooden money.
    "With so many people having financial troubles right now and not being able to work, it definitely helps," he added.
    "The nice thing is it keeps the business in town," Hamilton said. "The currency is only good in Tenino, so it helps promote the small town and keep business local. It's a two-fold win for people."
    Tenino has printed $10,000 worth of wooden bills for the time being, and so far about a dozen people have qualified to participate in the program, according to Tenino's Mayor Wayne Fournier.
    "I think people enjoy it and they appreciate it," Fournier told CNN. "There's a direct, quantifiable economic aspect to it, but then also an intangible spirit of creating hope," he added.
    Local communities the size of Tenino's face bigger hurdles when it comes to receiving state and federal pandemic relief, according to Fournier, so the currency is the city's response to the circumstances.
    The Latin phrase engraved on the bills is meant to translate as "we've got this handled," Fournier explained.
    "That's how we feel we have to do things around here, no one is coming to help. We have to step up and do it on our own."
    "You have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps," Fournier said. "If we can inspire other communities to do that, we're all going to be better off."

    History revamped

    This is not the first time the city of Tenino has resorted to printing its own money in times of economic hardship. It happened before, during the Great Recession.
    The Tenino Wooden Dollar was first printed in December 1931 when the local Citizens Bank failed and all bank accounts were frozen, according to city historian Richard Edwards.
    At that time, the currency was backed by the local Chamber of Commerce rather than by the local government, and was the brainchild of local newspaper publisher Don Major, who thought to use his printing press for the purpose.
    Residents could sign over up to 25% of their bank deposits to the Chamber of Commerce in exchange for the alternative currency, which was also made of wood, an abundantly available material in the Pacific Northwest. The first Tenino wooden currency circulated from 1931 to 1933, and later became a collectors' item.
    The fact that the new version of the Tenino dollar is also printed on wood has to do with the fact that this city "is very history aware," Edwards told CNN.
     Loren Ackerman prints wooden money on an 1890s-era press in Tenino, Washington
    The current Tenino Wooden Dollars are printed with the same newspaper press from the 1890s that was used in the 1930s with custom engraving blocks.
    The machine, which resides in the Tenino Depot Museum, was used over the years to produce commemorative versions of the historic Tenino Wooden Dollar for the collectors' market, for organizations and for special events, according to Edwards.