Coats, sweatshirts and sweaters — 407 of them — plus blankets, hats, gloves and socks. Each cozy item Tonja Jones donated to the Everett Gospel Mission last week is a tribute to a young man she’ll never forget.
Thursday would have been Derrick Craig Everson’s 33rd birthday, but he’s been gone since Aug. 20, 2009. Everson was 21 when he was stabbed 25 times in an unprovoked fatal attack on a wooded trail off Broadway in Everett.
“He was my nephew, but he was more like a son,” said Jones, 50, whose coat donations in memory of Everson’s birthday began in 2009, a few months after he died.
For nearly a dozen years now, the Lynnwood woman has kept up her Dec. 10 tribute, collecting coats and donating them to the mission where she said her nephew once stayed.
Jones said her mother had custody of Derrick and his brother when they were boys, and that he had struggled due to the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Everson’s grandmother, Sharon Jones, described him in a 2009 Herald article as good-natured, funny and loving. Growing up in Everett, he’d been in special education classes but hadn’t finished high school. He had dealt with teasing, and Tonja Jones said in 2009 that she believed he kept that hurt to himself.
“Derrick Everson didn’t do anything to David Kopp to cause the murder,” Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne, now retired, said in 2010 when he sentenced the defendant to 20 years in prison. Kopp, 20, had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder while armed with a deadly weapon. Witnesses had told police that Everson, Kopp and two others were smoking pot and drinking beer before the killing.
Tonja Jones said Thursday that although her nephew had briefly stayed at the Everett Gospel Mission, “he was more on the street.”
The mercury had barely reached 40 degrees Thursday morning as people along Smith Avenue outside the Everett Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter waited for meals. They watched as Tonja Jones and her friend, Charlene Lee, unloaded their two cars.
Jeremiah Swartz, operations manager at the mission, helped the women carry bag after bag of coats, sweaters and other cold-weather wear into a clothing donation area, which opens onto the alley around the back of the facility. “We don’t just serve clients who stay here,” said Swartz, who wore a sweatshirt that said “HOPE DEALER.”
Of the hundreds of meals the mission provides daily, only about 70 are in-house, he said. “Most meals are going to people outside,” said Swartz, adding that the mission sets up tents to provide some shelter for those being fed.
The pandemic has greatly added to the difficulties of helping people who are homeless. The Herald’s Rachel Riley reported Saturday that since shortly before Thanksgiving, some 40 people who had stayed at the men’s shelter have tested positive for COVID-19, and one man’s death at a hospital Friday was linked to the virus.
In this time of hardship, Tonja Jones is filled with gratitude for all the clothing donated in response to her Facebook plea. The Facebook page, Derrick Everson Memorial Coat Drive, helped her collect 99 men’s coats, 76 men’s sweaters or sweatshirts, 99 women’s coats, 75 women’s sweaters or sweatshirts, 54 children’s coats, four children’s sweaters, 14 blankets, plus many, many hats and pairs of socks and gloves.
The total is more than she’s gathered any other year, said Jones, who spends months collecting donated items and laundering gently used coats.
Jones has a home in Lynnwood but this year experienced her own setback. After 31 years with the same company, Aviation Technical Services, she lost her job in June.
On the Facebook page Thursday, she posted: “Happy Birthday Derrick!! I love and miss you. This year your Coat Drive is the biggest since you have been gone. 2020 has been a hard year for so many, but also a giving year. In honor of your memory a lot of people are going to be warm and dry.”
In the mission’s clothing storage area, she and helpers took cellphone pictures to commemorate the day.
“I am smiling,” she said, her voice muffled by her mask. “I’m blown away.”
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more: Tonja Jones collects coats and other cold-weather clothing all year in memory of her late nephew, Derrick Everson, who was murdered in 2009. Information: www.facebook.com/DerrickEversonMemorialCoatDrive.