CARLSBORG — A pandemic didn’t keep 14-year-old River Jensen and her family from helping those in need for a fifth straight year through River’s Christmas Project.
The Sequim High freshman provided more than 575 care packs of toiletries and day-to-day items to local agencies.
Unlike in years past, River wasn’t able to hand out the bags personally because of health concerns and restrictions.
“It’s OK,” she said in a Christmas Eve phone interview. “It still got to the people.”
In previous years, she’s handed out more than a 1,000 bags each year to agencies such as Serenity House of Clallam County and the Port Angeles Salvation Army. This December, bags were divided between those agencies and the Port Angeles Food Bank and Port Angeles Police Department.
In previous efforts, River collected local donations of soaps, toothbrushes and more at local businesses, but her mother Anna Larsen didn’t want to risk any spreading of COVID-19.
“We had a concern about handing them out to the most vulnerable people,” Anna said.
Instead, River helped recruit her aunt Rose Glitschka’s employer Zipwhip, a text messaging software business in Seattle, to sponsor her effort through an Amazon Wish List, so that staff could donate supplies and ship directly to River’s home.
“Without the extra hands, we didn’t have to worry about COVID-type things,” Anna said.
Some local supporters also purchased from the list, she said.
River said kits for men and women contain a variety of shampoos, conditioners, soaps, body washes and other toiletries. Larger packs held hats, gloves, socks, razors, deodorant, shave cream, nail files, chap stick and more. All bags feature a handwritten note from River.
River said she was initially uncertain if she would go through with the project because of the pandemic, but her family felt it was important to press on.
“We need to remember those who are less fortunate,” Anna said. “Even though we’re all struggling, this is all something we all need to be together on.”
River started helping those in-need by serving Christmas meals at age 6, which grew into making toiletry bags a few years later.
Even with the pandemic, River said, she found the roadblock to continue “fun, in a way.”
She added, “It’s just another challenge to get to the grand prize (of helping people),”
For her efforts, River was a finalist for the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Citizen of the Year. She kept the program going last year despite losing her father, Chris Jensen, in October 2019 to congestive heart failure.
“(This year) hasn’t been easy but she’s here to show people if there is a will there’s a way,” Anna said.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].