Local group of friends organize Winter Warmth Drive for the homeless

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News; photos courtesy of the Tulalip Caring Warriors

According to Snohomish County’s 2023 Point-in-Time Count of Homelessness, there was an 8.5 percent increase of unhoused citizens since 2022. The yearly count identified an additional 101 unhoused citizens, bringing the total count to 1,285, the highest it’s been in over a decade. 

To help combat this growing issue and assist their members who are experiencing homelessness, the Tulalip Tribes recently established a pallet shelter on the reservation, while also revamping the Village of Hope and adding several more tiny homes to their site.  

But even with the Tribe’s support and the extra resources, there are numerous Tulalip citizens who do not have a home to lay their head at night. And although it’s still technically fall, we’ve already encountered our share of nights with temperatures close to or below freezing. While many are enjoying celebrating the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ with the promise of opening gifts on Christmas day, there is a large population of people who are experiencing difficult times and are just looking to survive the winter. 

Enter a group of local friends with hearts of compassion who were looking to do nothing more than provide the homeless with a Thanksgiving meal following their annual ‘friendsgiving’ gathering. Comprised of both tribal members and Tulalip citizens, the group wishes to be officially known as the Tulalip Caring Warriors. Its members include Angelica Trinidad, Kayla Joseph, Odessa Flores, Melissa Young, Kylee Sohappy, and Janae Zackuse. It was through this act of kindness and selflessness that inspired the collective to continue with this work, and they now have monthly donation drives planned for the foreseeable future.

Said Angelica, “When we were passing out food on Thanksgiving, people kept mentioning that they needed to find ways to stay warm and that they weren’t sure how they were going to make it through the winter with how cold it is. I was like ‘guys, we should get some ideas on how to keep these people warm out there the next time we do this,’.”

What makes this story even more beautiful is that they are not embarking on this journey for social media content, comments, or reactions. In fact, they are extremely humble and were willing to share the details about their new endeavor only to spread the word that they are still accepting donations and to also invite others to help out with their upcoming donation drives. And though they all played major roles in getting this project up and running, the ladies were quick to credit Kayla with the idea of helping out those individuals currently experiencing homelessness. 

Kayla expressed, “It’s important for me to lead by example and show my kids that we are very blessed with clothes, food, a home to keep warm in, and that there are people out there who don’t have a warm meal to go home to. So, lets giveback whenever we can.”

Not only did the Tulalip Caring Warriors distribute food to the unhoused citizens on the reservation, but they also took the time to travel to nearby areas in Marysville and Everett as well. After a successful Thanksgiving distribution, the ladies wanted to keep the ball rolling and immediately began planning for December’s Winter Warmth Drive, and opened up donations for a 19-day stretch. 

“We collected hats, scarves, gloves, jackets, sweaters, and we accepted money donations as well, so we could purchase items online too. I was actually super surprised with how many donations we received,” Angelica recalled. 

Odessa added, “I drove to Mount Vernon, Bellingham, Marysville, Tulalip, and Everett to pick up donations. We got nine bags in total from different locations, and my family ended up donating two more bags. The day of [the distribution], we kept getting more donations to the point where our vehicles were full, and we ended up having to save those extra donations for the next drive we’re doing in January. We appreciate all the handmade donations as well. We had a lot of sets of hats and scarves and gloves that were handmade.”

In addition to the piles of warm winter gear, the ladies also gathered all of the monetary donations and purchased a number of items to assemble care packages, which included handwarmers, deodorant, shampoo, body wash, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sleeping bags. 

And they didn’t stop there. Each member of the Tulalip Caring Warriors expressed that one of the highlights of doing this charitable work is simply spending time with each other. They all spoke fondly of the time they spent cooking in the kitchen together, and how they shared an abundance of laughter while preparing soup and frybread to hand out along with the clothes and care packages. Angelica noted that a handful of their kids joined in on the fun and helped their moms and aunties make the frybread on distribution day. 

“When Kayla asked if I wanted to do this, I was like hell yeah,” voiced Angelica. “I would love the opportunity to teach my son about the importance of giving back because we’re all struggling. In this day and age our economy sucks. We all have different battles and struggles. We don’t know what’s going on in people’s daily lives. I firmly believe that if you want to see change in the world, be the change you want to see. It’s awesome to be able to set that example for my son.”

Odessa estimated that they fed over 100 unhoused individuals on December 10, throughout the Tulalip/Marysville/Everett region. And thanks to the Tulalip Caring Warriors who donated their hard work, time, and compassion when organizing the warmth drive, those approximate 100 people will be a little toastier this holiday season. 

“This was healing for my inner child,” shared Odessa. “I went through the beda?chelh system and I was put in a home where food wasn’t guaranteed every night. And being in recovery and on the run, and maybe eating once a day – going through all that in my adolescent years – and being back out there and distributing the donations really brought back a lot of memories, but also brought back a lot of healing for me. It truly meant a lot to see their reactions, their gratefulness and to see their faces light up.”

The art of giving back has seemingly been perfected by the Tulalip Caring Warriors and it’s wonderful to see the difference they are bringing about in the community. As each of them are hardworking and have that go-getter mindset, they were able to quickly establish a non-profit organization on the fly, in order to bring a little comfort to the local homeless population this winter.

Kayla stated, “The first stop, I had about eight people, and it was me and Jenae, and when we gave them the soup and bread, they immediately started eating. And then I told them that we had blankets and coats for them. They were so grateful to get a coat and a warm bowl of soup, they kept saying thank you so much.”

“I always say If I can help one person, that will be good enough for me,” continued Kayla. “I’m just excited that I get to do this monthly now, with friends who want to do it with me. They all have open minds and hearts and love to cook and laugh with each other. I just want my kids to know that we’re very fortunate. And also, that we’re lucky to have a good group of friends who will lift you up, pick you up, stand by your side, and do good to other people because so much in our world isn’t good. If you feel it in your heart to come cook with us and be with us, you’re more than welcome to join!”

The Tulalip Caring Warriors are now accepting donations for next month’s drive until January 14. If you would like to contribute to the cause, you can drop off your donations at the Tulalip Village of Hope at 2819 Mission Hill Road. They are accepting gently used scarves, hats, coats, blankets, and gloves, as well as snacks, canned goods, and dinner rolls. For more information, please feel free to reach out to Angelica Trinidad at (425) 404-1211 or Odessa Flores at (425) 319-4868.