It started with a simple request: a teacher from the Auburn School District reached out to a friend in Mercer Island asking for donations of sweaters and coats. Her students were unprepared for the cold weather; some were still wearing sandals, or jeans they had outgrown, or the same sweatshirt every day.
Islander Tammy Heydon posted on Facebook and NextDoor, which has a “Buy Nothing” section, and asked neighbors for help.
“It really wasn’t a planned clothing drive, simply a request from one friend to another to see if there was a way to get some basic clothing needs met for some of her kids,” Heydon said.
She ended up making six trips — filling an SUV or mini van each time with bags of coats, shoes, backpacks, jeans, pajamas, socks, hats, gloves and other items — after a massive community response from not just Mercer Island, but all over King County.
More than 60 people donated more than 100 boys coats, 100 girls coats, 20 adult coats, 160 pairs of shoes, 35 backpacks and too many pairs of jeans, shirts and hoodies to count.
They were able to fulfill wish lists for more than 150 kids, who requested items ranging from “Nike sweatshirt” for a boy, “jeans without holes” for a girl, “any clothes my size,” “tennis shoes without holes,” “soccer shirt,” “onesie pajamas,” “fuzzy coat” and more.
Heydon said the effort showed the power and positivity of the Mercer Island community, especially after a contentious election that inspired divisive debates on sites like NextDoor.
Her initial post showed some of the struggles faced by the kids, as told to their teacher, Lisa Acevedo, a learning specialist at Evergreen Heights Elementary. Almost 40 percent of Evergreen Heights students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Acevedo and Heydon have been friends since junior high.
“One family with five children just took in three cousins who were in foster care, and they are in dire need,” the post stated. “A boy from Africa asked me this morning if it will ever get this cold again, because he doesn’t have a coat, and didn’t know it would snow. One told me he lives in a RV and doesn’t have much space for clothes, but still needs a pair of jeans because his are too worn out and short to wear. I gave a 4th grader a good-natured teasing for wearing a 49ers sweater every day, just kidding about the Seahawks, until he said, ‘it’s the only sweater I have.’”
After the wish lists were fulfilled, Heydon wanted to find homes for the extra donated items. Four bags of adult sweatshirts, sweatpants and pajamas will go to an elderly care facility, and toiletries, sheets, towels and adult women’s clothing will be given to Mary’s Place. Kid’s socks, underwear, sweatpants and leggings are going to nurses’ offices at two elementary schools. Ski pants and Mercer Island logo wear will go to the Mercer Island Thrift Shop, which supports Youth and Family Services.
“Our hope is that when these kids grow up and become healthy successful caring adults, they will pay it forward to others that could use a helping hand,” Heydon said.