PORT TOWNSEND — Unlike the deer also roaming the town’s front yards, the flamingos don’t eat much.
Quietly, gracefully, they arrive by night: pink plastic birds planted by Port Townsend High School seniors. This fundraising tradition is called flocking, but, like almost everything else students do these days, it’s adapted for public health.
“We’re being super careful, super-conscious of COVID,” Stella Jorgenson, 17, said of her class’ flocking forays.
With Melanie Bakin and River Kisler, she’s part of a masked group that goes out to place flocks, aka flamboyances, of flamingos on lawns and doorsteps. Around the neck of the lead bird is a pouch explaining the whole thing.
Leave a donation — $25 is suggested — in the pouch, to help the class of 2021 fund its safe-and-sober Grad Night celebration. Come nightfall, Jorgenson and crew collect the pouch, corral the flock and transport it to the next location.
And if the just-flocked people want to send those birds to a specific address the following night, a $35 donation can make that happen.
This is all in good fun; the houses hosting flocks have either been recommended by someone from the high school or directly requested a flocking, said Debbie Bakin, Melanie’s mother and a Grad Night organizer.
To be flocked, Port Townsend residents can email [email protected].
Those who’d rather not have the birds around but want to support the class of ’21 may send contributions to PTHS Grad Night, 2505 Cleveland St., Port Townsend, WA 98368; donors should include their home addresses to be added to the do-not-flock list.
The students also have a crowdfunding site at https://www.gofundme.com/f/safe-sober-grad-night-for-pths-seniors-2021.
In this COVID year, high school seniors have gone without many activities, Melanie added.
But not this one. Flocking with friends, she said, is just “super fun.”
Jorgenson agreed that these flamingo flights, the first post-8 p.m. activity in which she’s participated in months, are a senior-year highlight, especially since they feed the mysterious Grad Night on June 11.
The venue for the post-graduation bash is kept secret all year while money is raised for music, food, games and giveaways.
“In a normal year, [flocking] would be one of many fundraisers that we’d run,” Debbie noted.
But since the advent of the pandemic, there have been scant opportunities to raise money, even as Grad Night costs have multiplied. Masks, sanitation and, possibly, rapid COVID-19 tests just before graduation day, are among the added expenses.
“The goal is to allow our teens to have a fun night together, outdoors, with lots of safety measures built in,” Debbie said, “so flocking becomes our biggest, and potentially only, fundraiser.”
Rapid testing is “an idea we’re looking into,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
While schools elsewhere use the fast tests, results have been mixed.
Rapid testing screens out people who are actively shedding the virus, Locke said, but it doesn’t eliminate those in the earliest stage of infection or in the convalescent stage.
In a low-prevalence area like Jefferson County, the rapid test can generate false positives, Locke said.
But hold on, he said.
“Something that’s just opened up, too, is the way vaccine supplies are going, we might be able to start vaccinating people 16 and older in May,” if the county has sufficient supply.
That would be far better than rapid-testing them.
In any case, Locke said, he’s working with parents and students to help them have as memorable a graduation as possible — as safely as possible.
Jorgenson added that, just this week, things are looking up: After months of remote study, she’s been put into a school cohort.
“So I get to go in [to campus] one day a week, and be in a classroom, and see people,” she said, adding she just got more good news.
This week, “it was fun to talk to our teachers. They said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re getting our shots,’ ” and are on the way to COVID-19 immunity.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]