SEQUIM — “Don’t lose hope!” “You are loved!”
These handwritten messages from River Jensen, along with many others, continue to be placed next to toiletries and other necessities as part of the 15-year-old’s annual Christmas project.
Since she was 10, the now-Sequim High School sophomore collected tens of thousands of compact hair products, teeth hygiene products, socks, gloves and hats to give to agencies for vulnerable populations.
“It feels even more important to do now with the combination of people in need and the deadly disease around,” she said.
Last year, Jensen and her family dropped off more than 1,100 toiletry bags between Serenity House, Salvation Army, Port Angeles Police Department and both the Sequim and Port Angeles food banks.
This year, she’ll do the same, and hopes to have bags for Sequim Police Department staff to hand out from their patrol vehicles.
Jensen’s mom Anna said the number of bags they dropped off last year was fewer than in the past, but they were a higher quality.
“I want to get it so there’s a lot of different stuff, and if it’s doable, if someone asks for double of something, I can say, ‘no problem,’” Jensen said.
In previous years, Jensen stood outside the Sequim Walmart seeking donations, but she was unable to because of the pandemic in 2020. This year, she and her family set up multiple ways to support the Christmas project:
• A wish list on Amazon and a fundraiser on Facebook (email [email protected] for links).
• Drop-off donation bins at Keller Williams Olympic, 244 W. Washington St., and Spotlight Tanning, 715 E. First St., Port Angeles.
• Cash and checks also accepted at Keller Williams for toiletries.
Specific items include compact shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, hat, gloves, comb and other miscellaneous toiletries.
Each year, the individual bags of toiletries are distributed the week before Christmas.
“I hope to keep doing it,” Jensen said, as she ponders her post-high school options; she’s considering a career involving animals.
She said she wouldn’t be able to continue without community members’ support.
“Once I was stopped in Safeway and a lady knew who I was told me she had some toiletries for me,” Jensen said. “It’s sweet she had stuff ready for me.”
People save toiletries throughout the year, and donations were still coming in after Christmas last year, she said.
A few years ago, another woman told her she had saved the personalized notes Jensen wrote and what they’ve meant to her.
In the few years she’s been able to meet and help those in need, Jensen said she’s learned there are a lot of circumstances that make people homeless.
As for helping people in vulnerable populations, she said she finds it doesn’t have to be much, because, “to them, it means a lot.”
Jensen started her giving journey when she was 6 when she helped her mom serve Christmas meals in Port Angeles.
For more information about Jensen’s Christmas project, email [email protected]
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].