Mercer Islanders help the homeless during the holiday season

Locals sew fleece hats and collect socks.

With three sewing machines humming along and copious, eager hands on deck, Dina Deitz leads the hat-making group in her Mercer Island dining room.

The dedicated and energetic Island mom, along with her ever-reliable daughters and some friends, are giving their fingers a workout while bringing fleece hats to life to warm up homeless children staying in 123 shelters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Deitz is gunning to put the finishing touches on a kindhearted assemblage of 500 hats for 4-5-year-old boys and girls by Dec. 10, when the Coast Guard Family and Friends Holiday Stockings for Homeless Children event takes place at a warehouse in Seattle. At the gathering, about 500 volunteers will split into two shifts and stuff approximately 5,000 stockings for those in need.

“I explain to them, these are kids who when they wake up on Christmas morning, will not have a tree full of toys. To have this, to pull out as a surprise on Christmas morning, is just so special,” said Deitz, adding that she and her daughters — one now in college and the other at Mercer Island High School — began volunteering for the Coast Guard nonprofit organization by stuffing stockings eight years ago.

Deitz, who is a table captain this year, added: “It seemed like a great organization where the girls could help other kids who were in need.”

Along with the hats, the stockings include books, hand warmers, socks, toothbrushes, stuffed animals and more for infants and those up to 17 years of age, said Mercer Island organization president Bobette Scheid, who has been involved with the all-volunteer nonprofit — founded by Jan Maxson — for all of its 27 years.

Island resident Scheid, whose husband, Kevin, is a retired Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter pilot, said the event has grown each year and now they’ll set up shop at a bigger location.

When she phones the shelters to discuss that the event is drawing near, people are elated.

“I get to hear all the wonderful stories that they tell me, and the kids will send us little cards and I show them around to the board,” said Scheid, adding that a Burien police officer contacted her about receiving stockings to hand out to kids on the streets.

For more information, visit

Mercer Island High School robotics team members Alanna Larson and Noah Do collect socks for Operation Nightwatch. Courtesy photo

Mercer Island High School robotics team members Alanna Larson and Noah Do collect socks for Operation Nightwatch. Courtesy photo


Members of the Mercer Island High School robotics team and their coach are connecting with Operation Nightwatch, a Seattle-based homelessness outreach organization, with the “Spare a Pair” sock drive.

The group of 50 students collected 469 pairs of socks for the organization, which was founded by the late Bud Palmberg of Mercer Island and now features executive director Frank DiGirolamo, who serves as deacon at St. Monica Catholic Church on the Island.

Fine arts instructor and robotics coach Chantel Torrey said that her team is committed to building and supporting communities.

“Part of the reason that I really want us to get focused on philanthropic endeavors is because we are a part of Mercer Island. But two miles down the road, there’s just poverty and homelessness. So with more kids, we have the option of that increased manpower (and) I really wanted us to start turning our sights toward ‘What can we do for our communities?’” said Torrey, adding that this is one impactful project of several that she’d like to place on their volunteer docket.

Seniors Noah Do and Samantha Ha said that with such a project — and potential future in-person activities — it’s vital for students to interact with others while traversing a meaningful path off the Island “bubble.”

Ha elaborated: “By doing this, I think it’s giving them a direct connection to what they’re doing and what they’re helping with and how they can help make that impact.”

Do, the robotics club chief executive officer, has volunteered in the Operation Nightwatch night kitchen and said it was a life-changing and heartwarming experience.

“It’s just nice to know that you’re helping people out,” he said.