Oak Harbor girl, 9, stocks food bank pantry

Samantha Cook carefully tallies the number of donations Sunday morning before the 11 a.m. service at the Church of Christ. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Samantha Cook carefully tallies the number of donations Sunday morning before the 11 a.m. service at the Church of Christ.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Samantha Cook couldn’t believe her eyes while en route to the Seattle airport for a family vacation earlier this year. A group of homeless people huddled beneath an overpass caught the 9-year-old’s attention.

Where to they live? How do they get food and water? The questions kept coming, said her mother, Diane, who explained that the homeless do not have permanent homes and rely on food banks or shelters for sustenance.

Samantha decided to make a difference in the Oak Harbor community by donating food to the North Whidbey Help House by holding her own food drive, patterned after one she participated in at her school, Broad View Elementary.

Samantha’s project is visibly gaining speed. With the help of youth minister Ariel Kennedy and other children who attend the Church of Christ, the kids have collected more than 600 food items for Help House, just over halfway to Samantha’s goal of 1,000 items.

“They have taken off,” Diane said of Samantha’s food-raiser.

Each Sunday before church, Samantha, and a core group of four other children, including Lilly Hammitt, 7, Sydney Cook, 5, Ruben Collazo, 5, and Gwyneth McSween, 4, tally the new donations. With the help of a few adults, the group updates a giant tally on the front wall of the Church of Christ to mark their progress.

Once Samantha reaches her goal of 1,000 items, the food will go to Help House, and the 9-year-old will take a fundraising break for the summer, she said, adding that her next project, a coat and bedding drive, will likely take place in the fall.

There was no shortage of positive comments about Samantha’s advanced management abilities. A handful of church members referred to her as the “youngest CEO.”

“She’s quite a leader,” Ken Merritt said.

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