Fifth annual teacher gift bag project returns

After a long year of teaching remotely, local teachers are getting shown appreciation from the community with the return of the fifth annual teacher gift bag.

Organized by Rami Amaro, volunteers go to businesses throughout the island to collect donations for the gift bags. Tandi Mauldin has been one of Amaro’s main helpers, along with a group of Friday Harbor High School students.

Amaro was motivated to give back to the teaching community after she was a substitute teacher throughout attending law school.

“Substitute teaching teaches you one thing — and that is that teaching is hard! Really hard,” she said.

Amaro’s team had hopes of gathering enough donations to involve Lopez and Orcas schools this year, but with the toll, the pandemic has taken on local businesses, they have only been able to collect enough donations for San Juan School District.

This year, gaining donations while businesses are still recovering from the pandemic has been difficult, Amaro said, causing donations to go way down.

Though she said they would like to make the gift bags as nice as they can and include other schools, it is a very understandable position that these businesses are in. As a business owner herself, Mauldin said she can relate to what they are going through. As a result, they have been making a conscious effort to spread out their donation since they don’t want to hound struggling businesses. Amaro owns Amaro Farm and Mauldin, owns Mauldin’s Well Service. Both Amaro and Mauldin use their businesses to go towards donations as well.

The gift bags are still in need of 100 Costco snack packs, 100 more gift cards to restaurants and coffee shops amounting to $10-$25 each, and they also hope to be able to throw in bigger prizes show up in random bags such as a kayak tour, massage, car washes, and such.

Despite pandemic struggles, they have still received generous donations, Mauldin said. Some of the donations included wine from local wineries, custom t-shirts, wool socks, and gift certificates for food and movies. This year they are trying to do a couple of big things, such as a night or two at one of the hotels on the island or a massage, she said.

Amaro continued on to express how each year the gift bags get better and better, and she and her crew would like to thank the support of the community for that. The help they gain with this project allows them to also carry on with other community projects such as Free Firewood Day, the 4-H program, pro bono legal work, events for veterans and foster kids, and dog rescue.

“We’ve had teachers and kids cry tears of happiness,” Amaro said. “This is a very small way of saying thanks for what they do, and to remind them that their work does not go unnoticed.”