Soap, deodorant, toothbrush, comb and shampoo; these were the items I packed into a small drawstring bag – a hygiene care package for a child in need. According to the United Way ALICE Report, 18 percent of Whatcom County households are below the poverty line, while 24 percent are below the ALICE line.

An INSP employee helps guests at the pop-up party create a hygiene gift bag for local Whatcom County students in need. Photo courtesy: Shawn Nichols.

“ALICE” stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This metric constitutes a high amount of the Whatcom County population who are above the Federal Poverty Level, but don’t make enough to afford basic household necessities. If you add the percentage of those under the FPL and those under the ALICE line, you arrive at 42 percent – the percentage of individuals in our county who can’t afford to live comfortably.

No one is affected worse than children; dependents who aren’t old enough and lack the skills to earn an income themselves. They are directly dependent on their parent’s or parents’ source of income.

So, if deodorant isn’t in the budget this month, you don’t get deodorant before you head to school. If it isn’t feasible to buy a toothbrush until the end of the week, that’s one week without brushing your teeth, and who knows if the family can even afford to buy toothpaste?

These are all real scenarios faced by many Whatcom County families. Fortunately, businesses like Comcast and INSP are working with the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation to facilitate change.

Hygiene gift bags consisted of deodorant, soap, shampoo, combs, winter hats and gloves. Photo courtesy: Shawn Nichols.

On Saturday, September 22 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., INSP and Comcast partnered to host “XFINITY + INSP + You = Building a Stronger Community Together.” The free pop-up party took place at the XFINITY Store by Comcast located at 1145 E. Sunset Drive #105 in Bellingham. Attendees were encouraged to participate in the creation of hygiene gift baskets, which will be distributed to local school children.

Bellingham and Burlington Xfinity Store Manager Erikka Taylor said the original plan was to create school supply packages for students in need, but the team later discovered that the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation already provides school supplies. So INSP and Comcast partnered with the Bellingham Schools Foundation and asked where they saw a need in the community.

“Community is very important,” Taylor says. “We already offer initiatives such as the Internet Essentials program through Comcast to help underprivileged families, but we’re always looking for more ways to help our local community.” The Internet Essentials program helps families without internet gain access for just $9.95, for students to complete their homework and gain access to learning resources they wouldn’t otherwise have. Today, it’s almost impossible for students to complete their homework without basic internet access. But many families lack the funds to make this possible. Comcast identified this need and is working to fix the problem in our community. And they’re addressing other issues as well.

Comcast and INSP partnered with the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation to host the event. Photo courtesy: Shawn Nichols.

Last year, INSP and Comcast collaborated on their first Pop-Up Party. This year, they wanted the event to focus on giving back to the community. The highlight of the event was creating the “personal supply packs.” Any customer who walked into the store could make one, and Comcast and INSP provided all the supplies. There were 200 drawstring backpacks that needed to be filled with toiletries and winter clothing. After filling your backpack with all the essentials, you got to participate in a puzzle activity for a chance at some prizes. Every guest got a free ice cream voucher for the Sugar Shack food truck, which was parked right outside the store.

This event was just one of many opportunities to help those less fortunate in Whatcom County. ELL Family Advocate and Family Liaison for Bellingham Public Schools Kathe Koruga said assistance and community involvement is needed all year long. “Contributing cash donations to the Bellingham Public School Foundation – specify it goes to basic needs – helps us buy beds and so many other basic needs,” Koruga said. “Donating gift cards to stores like Fred Meyer also helps the foundation buy clothing or other needs when we can’t find a community partner to assist us when an immediate need arises.”

Kathe Koruga (second from left), encourages community members to assist the Bellingham Public School Foundation by donating cash, supplies or gift card donations throughout the year. Photo courtesy: Shawn Nichols.

Koruga said the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation is always looking for new community partners to support Whatcom County students and families. The foundation was thrilled with Comcast and INSP’s event, which helped families and raised awareness of issues in our community.

Koruga said the foundation started collecting and distributing personal care items last year because families were asking for laundry soap, diapers, shampoo, deodorant and other necessities. These items cannot be obtained at the food banks found throughout the county, making it hard for some families to collect them at all.

“We could not do this work without our community partners,” Koruga said. “We have had realtors, churches and business owners all partner with us.”

Doing good also feels good; you’re not only helping someone else when you donate to a person in need, you’re also helping yourself by spreading a bit of good fortune where it’s most needed.


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