SNOHOMISH — It started some 20 years ago when her kids were little.
Jackie Cort would take her son and daughter to stand in front of the Snohomish J.C. Penney with a decorated cardboard box to collect socks for the homeless.
“They were mortified, but I made them do it every year,” Cort said. “I just wanted to make sure they stayed humble with everything they wanted for Christmas. There’s always something you can do to help.”
The family would put homemade cookies in the gift bags they delivered to a mission for homeless men.
The kids grew up as did the project, which goes by the name Corthouse Christmas Sock and Cookie Drive on social media. It expanded to gift bags for women at Esther’s Place in Everett. The men’s items go to the Everett Gospel Mission.
“People started collecting for us,” said Cort, 53, a painter who teaches classes at the Schack Art Center.
Members of the regional arts community donate and so do friends of friends. And strangers.
Cort opens it to the community by hosting a donation drop-off night at her Machias home. This is not a tax-deductible nonprofit. It’s a woman on a mission.
“Last year, my living room was knee-deep in hats and gloves and everything,” she said.
She’s off to a good start this year, even before the open house on Friday when the bulk of donations are expected.
A knitter she knows hand-loomed 65 heavy-duty wool hats, many in festive and trendy colors. Another friend brought by several dozen handwarmers. A box of 50 pairs of socks arrived from Hawaii from a girl who years ago played on a softball team coached by her husband, Todd. Some people send her items from her Amazon wish list.
Everett Cub Scouts Pack 122 is partnering with her for a community service project.
The pack, which has about 40 boys and girls and meets at Penny Creek Elementary in Everett, is making 40 bags for Cort, and also collecting items for clients of The AIDS Outreach Project. The Scouts will decorate, assemble and deliver the bags.
Around Snohomish County, others have started their own holiday missions.
For example, in Mukilteo, Hana Barhoum, 10, and her sister Leila, 8, are making 75 “blessing bags” to hand out to those in need. Their mom uses Facebook to coordinate the collection of items such as protein bars, gum, lip balm and socks. A dental center donated toothbrush kits. The girls choose a different project each year.
From 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, Benjamin Mahelona, 10, and his 6-year-old brother, Caleb, will set up their annual “Cocoa for a Cause” stand with hot chocolate and treats at Glen Avenue and Fifth Street in Snohomish. Local businesses pitch in supplies. Money goes to help the International Rescue Committee. The boys raised $500 last year.
Socks are Cort’s main need.
She said a pair of socks and homemade treats are the bare minimum in every bag for men. Toiletries that friends collect from hotels are added to the bags. “Umbrellas are good, because they are some form of shelter.”
She makes extra bags to give to men not served by the mission. “Todd drives around and I just jump out and visit with them for a minute,” she said. “I like to go find them, just so they get something.”
For women at Esther’s Place, she takes it up a notch.
“We try to do gloves and maybe a pretty scarf and costume jewelry,” she said. “Those things can be like-new. We all have pretty things we don’t wear. I’m all about re-use. It’s something special for them.”
Kids can get involved by decorating the bags.
“Children do artwork and messages of hope and love,” Cort said. “A lot of recipients keep those in their wallet for years.”
And her kids? Her daughter Sarah is 34 and son Taylor is 28.
They still help.
Despite what her mom says, Sarah remembers those days outside of J.C. Penney with the huge decorated box as being more fun than mortifying.
“When people came in we’d say, ‘Excuse me, we’re trying to gather socks for the homeless,’ ” she said. “We were super excited when they came out and put some in.”
How to help
To donate socks and other items to Jackie Cort, email email@example.com.
For contributions to the Barhoum sisters’ blessing bags, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cub Scouts Pack 122’s Amazon wish list is http://a.co/0nCj3j0.
Email “Cocoa for a Cause” at email@example.com.