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South Whidbey boy collects backpacks for homeless

Courtney Dunigan has started collecting backpacks for the homeless in Seattle. - Patricia Duff / The Record
Courtney Dunigan has started collecting backpacks for the homeless in Seattle.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

When 12-year-old Courtney Dunigan was told there were people living outside this past winter, he shivered at the thought.

“I felt sorry for them because they were probably very cold and hungry,” Dunigan said.

Courtney’s mom Patti Dunigan had introduced her son to a group called “His Hands Extended,” which administers to the homeless in Seattle. The group was formed by members of the Assembly of God and Trinity Lutheran churches.

“Courtney has been working with the group since last January,” Patti Dunigan said, “when he heard they need blankets, coats, scarves, hats and gloves. When it was so cold this winter, we started talking about that.”

The Dunigans participated in the drive to gather as much warm clothing as they could.

When spring arrived and temperatures started to warm, Courtney asked the group what other things the homeless might need. Backpacks, he was told.

“So we went to Good Cheer and they gave us a discount,” Dunigan said.

“That was great, but Courtney was trying to think how we could get more, and that was when recycled backpacks came to mind,” she added.

With the help of large boxes donated by Angus and Maureen MacDonald of Freeland U-Haul, the mother-and-son team were able to place boxes at South Whidbey’s elementary, middle and high schools, as well as at Assembly of God and Trinity Lutheran Church.

The timing wasn’t great, however, because most of the students needed their backpacks to clean out their lockers at the end of the school year and haul their stuff home. The Dunigans thought that now would be a better time to collect them.

Backpacks and other items for the homeless can be donated from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday in the boxes at the South Whidbey School District office at 721 Camano Ave. in Langley.

Courtney is a seventh-grader at Island Christian Academy in Langley. At school, he received a “Going Above and Beyond Award” for his good works. Courtney spent some thought to homelessness and knows there are more people on the island who are homeless than people may realize.

“There could be a lot of homeless, but you could barely believe that because you don’t see them,” Courtney said.

“Maybe they’re embarrassed and stay hidden because of being homeless.”

He tries to imagine what it must be like and thinks of possibly making more of an effort with the recycled backpacks.

“I was thinking it would be neat to put a Beanie Baby in there, or a teddy bear or any stuffed animal,” Courtney said.

He also considered other items that would make a good donation drive for the homeless. Shoes, blankets and pillows, toothpaste and other bathroom items perhaps.

“We could give them umbrellas and tarps, maybe a comfy cot or something,” he added.

It is estimated that there are between 6,000 and 8,000 homeless people in Seattle; 1,000 of those are children. Courtney and his mom have been invited by “His Hands Extended” to join one of its bimonthly trips to serve the homeless in Seattle. They hope to be able to bring a big box of recycled backpacks, and perhaps other useful items, with them when they go.

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