From the left, Petty Officer First Class Rob Stuart, Tiffany Wheeler-Thompson, Joanne Pelant and Carolyn Pence look at some of the clothes Stuart donated after running a drive with his squadron, VAQ-129. Stuart collected nearly 600 pieces of clothing for the Housing Support Center. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

From the left, Petty Officer First Class Rob Stuart, Tiffany Wheeler-Thompson, Joanne Pelant and Carolyn Pence look at some of the clothes Stuart donated after running a drive with his squadron, VAQ-129. Stuart collected nearly 600 pieces of clothing for the Housing Support Center. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Whidbey sailors’ clothing, toiletry drive exceeds all expectations

On Thursday afternoon, the county Housing Support Center was overrun with clothes in folded piles and boxes all over the front room.

Petty Officer First Class Rob Stuart, of VAQ-129, had set out to do a clothing drive in October, but he didn’t quite expect the volume of donations that it would produce.

“You hope for this much, and you’re expectations are always exceeded,” said Stuart. “There’s just a lot of good people.”

Tiffany Wheeler-Thompson, of Island County Human Services, said she was certainly surprised when Stuart told her how many items he was delivering.

Wheeler-Thompson is the coordinator for Parent to Parent, a program that provides support, resources and information for families with members who have developmental disabilities.

Stuart volunteers with the program, which is how he got to know Wheeler-Thompson, and contacted her with the idea of donating clothes. He said because this area can get cold fast, he felt it was vital for warm clothes to be available for those in need.

“I just felt it was something that was a necessity for our community,” Stuart said.

In only one week, between Oct. 9 and 13, his squadron collected the nearly 600 pieces of clothing. Stuart’s drive inspired another squadron member to do a different drive to fulfill the need for toiletries.

Seaman Ryan Breeden said he loves to be involved in the community by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, schools and different events happening in Oak Harbor such as the marathon. After seeing so many homeless people in Oak Harbor, Breeden said he’d rather do something that would have a bigger impact than handing out a dollar or two.

Despite being in Nevada at the time, Breeden spent the month of October using email, fliers and word of mouth to gather as many toiletries as he could. Breeden also obtained new gloves to donate from Habit for Humanity while volunteering there.

“I wish I could’ve done more,” Breeden said as he delivered his box of toiletries and gloves to staff at the Housing Support Center.

The human services staff were more than pleased with the amount the two sailors collected. In fact, they were a little overwhelmed.

“We’re not really set up to be a place where the community can come and just drop things off and donate,” said Joanne Pelant, housing resource coordinator.

To deliver the items to those in need, the center is hosting a free garage sale from Nov. 13 through 19. The Homeless Coalition and local shelters have been invited to take as many items as they need. Staff also plan to use the donations to serve its own clients as well.

Carolyn Pence said she had already given a coat to someone in need that she works with through the Opioid Outreach program.

This isn’t the first drive Stuart has done. Last year, he collected toys and art supplies for Margie’s House, a transitional shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

“I like doing drives every year for the local community if I can,” he said.

This year’s drive has been deemed a success. Many of the clothing items were new or name-brand.

“I don’t know how they did it,” said Pelant. “But, however they did it, it’s amazing.

A lot of people will really benefit from this.”

Carolyn Pence, left, and Malissa Taylor fold clothes donated by Petty Officer First Class Rob Stuart from VAQ-129. Stuart’s drive also inspired a seaman in his squadron to run a toiletry drive for the Housing Support Center as well. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Carolyn Pence, left, and Malissa Taylor fold clothes donated by Petty Officer First Class Rob Stuart from VAQ-129. Stuart’s drive also inspired a seaman in his squadron to run a toiletry drive for the Housing Support Center as well. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

From the left, Carolyn Pence, Malissa Taylor, Joanne Pelant, Beth Plush, Tiffany Wheeler-Thompson, Seaman Ryan Breeden and Petty Officer First Class Rob Stuart. Breeden and Stuart ran drives from their squadron, VAQ-129, for toiletries and clothing for the county Housing Support Center. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

From the left, Carolyn Pence, Malissa Taylor, Joanne Pelant, Beth Plush, Tiffany Wheeler-Thompson, Seaman Ryan Breeden and Petty Officer First Class Rob Stuart. Breeden and Stuart ran drives from their squadron, VAQ-129, for toiletries and clothing for the county Housing Support Center. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

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