It was December 2020 and Washougal resident Tara Poulsen wanted to lift local students’ spirits.
Poulsen knew many students were struggling with isolation during the period of school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and she wanted to help them feel more connected to each other and to their school community.
She decided to create “blessing boxes” filled with donated goodies that would be distributed to Washougal students in an attempt to cheer them up during the winter holiday season.
The boxes were a hit in 2020, so Poulsen decided to do it again this year.
“The kids weren’t in school last year, so we were trying to help them find connections and get connected to people again,” Poulsen said. “But even though the kids are back in school this year, I just feel like there’s still that need and that a lot of kids are still struggling.”
The school’s second “blessing boxes” campaign was even more successful than the first. Poulsen and Washougal High counselor Lexie Groves coordinated an effort to create and distribute 103 “blessing boxes” to Washougal High School students earlier this month, more than doubling the 2020 total.
The boxes contained food, art supplies, spa supplies, stickers, novelty items, and notes of encouragement from students and staff members.
“The winter break is awesome for some students but not so great for others, so this was a good way to send them off and let them know that their teachers and counselors are about them,” Groves said. “I think students and staff alike are all getting used to our new ‘normal,’ learning how to follow guidelines but also trying to get back into a routine. And students are facing issues beyond (the pandemic). I think everybody’s fighting their own battles, but this was a nice way to let people know that we care.”
Poulsen asked community members via social media to drop off donations at local businesses, including Beauty Temptations, Head 2 Toe Salon, Washougal River CrossFit and Peer Wellness Chiropractic & Massage.
“I was blown away by the community support. It was just really awesome to see,” Paulson said. Poulsen took the donations to Washougal High on Dec. 9, and put the packages together with the help of a group of staff members and students.
“Honestly, I think it was just as much of a blessing for those students as (it was) for the receivers,” Poulsen said. “We had a huge group of kids help us put them together. We knocked it out really fast and were able to put so much more stuff in the boxes that I had planned. We were overwhelmed with the amount of merchandise we had for the donations.”
Groves solicited “nominations” from her peers and created a list of students to receive the boxes.
While many people assumed the boxes were going to students in financial need, Groves said she tried to get the word out that the blessing boxes were for students who might be going through tough times – financial or otherwise – who could really use a “pick me up” this holiday season.
“When nominating a student, people had the option of saying why, but they didn’t have to — it didn’t really matter. But some people did, and it was nice to have that context as well,” Groves said.
After the boxes and list of names were completed, the selected students received notes telling them they had been nominated to receive a blessing box “because (they) are amazing” and to pick them up in the school counseling office.
“The kids were so grateful,” Groves said. “A lot of students came in and were like, ‘That was really cool. I think it was really appreciated, even if people aren’t talking to you about it.’ We had a couple of kids come in and say, ‘Hey, are these made just for me?’ We were like, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘I got my favorite color mug,’ or, ‘It feels like the note was written exactly to me. It said something that really spoke to me.’ It was amazing.”
Poulsen, who also organized Washougal High School’s “Giving Gown Gala” in October with her daughter, Taylor, a senior at Washougal High, said she hopes to keep both events going in the future and have more student involvement.
“I love being involved in stuff like this, but it would be nice to be able to pass this on to the students and inspire the next generation of kids to start thinking, ‘What can I do?'” Poulsen said. “That’s what I really wanted these kids to see — the ripple effects of doing something good … and seeing how that carries out.”