Keeping island youth warm

Every day at recess a number of elementary school children do not have rainjackets or occasionally any coat because their families simply can’t afford them. These youth return to the classroom shivering.

“Teachers said in our survey that it affects their learning ability,” Friday Harbor High School student Grace Eltinge said. “Once they become wet and cold they can’t focus for the rest of the day.”

Eltinge and fellow student Jennifer Garfias learned about the issue through the Rotary Club of San Juan Island, since Eltinge’s father is an active member. Still, it was a surprise, Eltinge said, to learn just how many children did not have proper rain gear.

Rotary collects jackets during the holiday season for those who need them. The two students decided they would tackle the problem for their community project.

For years Friday Harbor High School students addressed local issues through a community project in a class taught by Jenny Wilson. However, Wilson retired last year, and STEM teacher Samuel Garson has stepped in.

“I really like this class because it really helps us to learn and be a bigger part of the community, make a big difference,” said Eltinge, adding “this is a local problem and we can find a solution.”

Garfias and Eltinge raised approximately $2,000 after presenting the project to the Rotary Club and talking to other islanders. The students were not legally allowed to physically handle the money so the Joyce L. Sobel Community Center took care of that side of it.

The two began by surveying elementary students to figure out the quantity and sizes of jackets needed.

The Rotary Club stepped up further, however, and so did the clothing company Patagonia. Orcas Islander and president of Rotary Rick Hughes was at a retail convention for his business Island Life. Hughes ran into employees from Patagonia and talked to them about the possibility of the company donating coats.

Sixty lightly worn Patagonia coats in adult and children’s sizes were donated to the cause. Hughes and the club brought 30 to the Orcas Resource Center and 30 to the Joyce Sobel Family Resource Center.

“Patagonia has a really big heart. I’m not sure how many people know this but if you have a jacket that you don’t wear anymore, you can send it back, they clean it up, repair it and donate it,” Hughes explained, adding that Rotary hopes to grow the program and involve other vendors as well. “There were lots of synergies in this, international, national to local.”

Often, he said, people have the perception that San Juan County is uber-wealthy.

“We have people who struggle every day, be it financial, mental health, access to food, housing. We have the same issues as the mainland but because it’s a tourist destination people don’t see it,” Hughes said.

According to Jennifer Armstrong, Director of the Joyce Sobel Family Resource Center, the Patagonia jackets will be distributed on an as-needed basis through various assistance operating by the Resource Center.

While clothing isn’t something they typically handle, as they do not have the storage, the resource center does periodically hold jacket drives. Those drives might be for gently used jackets donated by community members, or new jackets if a specific community group steps up and wants to partner with the Resource Center to do that.

“Keeping warm during our long, wet winters is not easy for some community members,” Armstrong said. “The Resource Center is extremely grateful for the many donations of hats, gloves and warm blankets we received and distributed over the holidays.”

According to Armstrong, another item desperately needed is firewood. She encouraged anyone with extra firewood that they are willing to share with a family or individual in need to call the Family Resource Center at 360-378-5246.

Meanwhile, Eltinge and Garfias ordered a total of 65 jackets that may already be in the arms of the children who need them, keeping them warm.

“If we have any extra funds, it will go to the Family Resource Center for additional rain jackets for the elementary school,” said Eltinge. “I wonder if this will impact the health side of it, preventing kids from getting as sick, since they get sick so easily.”

To learn more about the Resource Center visit To learn more about the Rotary Club, visit