A small army of volunteers worked tirelessly early last week to make sure that clients of the Stanwood Camano Food Bank each received a festive bit of holiday cheer.
Deanna Kitchen, founder of the Growing Kindness Project, an international network that encourages gardeners to grow flowers as gifts of goodwill, led what has become an annual effort to provide decorative evergreen centerpieces to brighten the homes of those in need.
“This is the third year that I’ve connected with the food bank to provide holiday décor,” she said. “I truly believe having some fragrant evergreens in your home during the holidays can be very uplifting.”
Last month, Kitchen contacted Stanwood Camano Food Bank Executive Director Kathy Moe to get an estimate of how many centerpieces would be needed this year.
The answer was a lot — more than twice as many from a year ago.
“When Kathy asked if we could provide 900 items, I was a bit taken aback,” Kitchen said. “We had delivered 400 last year, and I knew that need had increased due to the pandemic, but it was sobering to learn the number had more than doubled.”
Kitchen, the owner of Twig and Vine flower farm in Conway, immediately got to work and reached out through word-of-mouth and social media to get things rolling.
“The community response to my request for help was amazing,” she said. “We received generous donations of materials and cash from local businesses so we were able to get everything we needed. Plus, over 50 volunteers stepped up to participate.”
Due to restrictions as a result of COVID-19, Kitchen said it was more challenging to coordinate the assembly of the centerpieces this year.
“Normally, I would just have volunteers stop by the farm for projects like this,” she said. “We had to be creative and stagger folks in small teams so that we could socially distance and keep everyone safe.”
Kitchen is grateful to Cohost in downtown Stanwood for hosting the centerpiece assembly teams at no charge.
“The event space at Cohost was so convenient and welcoming,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough.”
Volunteer Jessica Bishop of Bow felt that taking part in the centerpiece project was a great way to help those who are experiencing stress during trying times.
“I like the idea of giving families a decoration that lets them know that we are thinking about them and want to spread holiday cheer,” she said. “Plus, taking part in this project makes me feel connected to others who care about our community.”
Cathie Helgeland, a volunteer from Camano Island, agreed.
“I used to be a florist and I truly understand how something as simple as an evergreen centerpiece can bring joy to a home during the holidays,” she said. “I love being a part of this group that Deanna has brought together — it builds such meaningful fellowship.”
Being on the centerpiece assembly teams had special significance for Ganjana, a volunteer from the Stanwood area.
“Last year as a client of the food bank, I received one of Deanna’s lovely decorations,” she said. “When I heard she needed help, I was more than happy to volunteer my time.”
The food bank began giving out the centerpieces late last week.
Moe said she was incredibly pleased with the big smiles she saw when folks got their holiday evergreens.
“This has been a very difficult year of meeting ever-growing need and to be able to give something so beautiful and cheery is wonderful,” she said.