River Jensen, left, continues to gather toiletries with her mom Anna to create bags for in-need people this holiday season. Anna said for they used to wait to sort them but they received so many donations that it took them more a week to sort and bag. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

River Jensen, left, continues to gather toiletries with her mom Anna to create bags for in-need people this holiday season. Anna said for they used to wait to sort them but they received so many donations that it took them more a week to sort and bag. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Sequim teen keeps promise to support community despite personal loss

River’s Christmas Project continues this holiday season

Between volleyball in the fall and soccer in the spring, 13-year-old River Jensen continues to put service as her extracurricular each winter.

This month the Sequim youth begins collections for the fourth-annual River’s Christmas Project that brings toiletries to locals in-need of day-to-day supplies.

Per tradition, Jensen will provide toiletries to Serenity House of Clallam County at a date to be determined, and at the Port Angeles Salvation Army on Christmas Eve.

She and family intend to walk downtown Seattle with some supplies, too.

Jensen’s efforts have caught a lot of attention with multiple news stories in print, on air and TV, and she was even a finalist for the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Citizen of the Year.

But among friends, the Sequim eighth-grader said, “it’s just something I do.”

Donations tend to add up for River Jensen’s project to provide toiletry bags to those in-need across Clallam County. Here she stands with her brother Canyon with some donations in recent years. Photo courtesy of Anna Jensen

Donations tend to add up for River Jensen’s project to provide toiletry bags to those in-need across Clallam County. Here she stands with her brother Canyon with some donations in recent years. Photo courtesy of Anna Jensen

A promise

If there was a year to take a break, this would be it though.

River’s father Chris Jensen died on Oct. 1 of congestive heart failure.

“I was planning not to do it,” River said.

“But someone asked me if I was going to do it and I said yes without thinking. But then later I thought about it and realized, oh yeah, I wasn’t going to do it.

“I made a promise to someone, so I better keep it.”

That was something her dad believed strongly in, she said.

River plans to keep the project going until she starts college. She’s interested in marine biology.

Family and friends provide soaps and shampoos to River’s Christmas Project anytime they go to a hotel. This Sunday, River Jensen accepts donations from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Port Angeles Walmart. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Family and friends provide soaps and shampoos to River’s Christmas Project anytime they go to a hotel. This Sunday, River Jensen accepts donations from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Port Angeles Walmart. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Keep going

Each year, River and her family and friends set up a donation drive in front of a local Walmart to accept donations. This year they’ll be in front of the Port Angeles Walmart from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10.

“It’s a crazy day,” River said.

With so many donations coming in those days, it usually takes at least two truckloads to transport everything to their storage unit, River’s mom Anna Jensen said.

For the first two years, the family waited to sort it all, but River and her mom say it took more than a week to sort and pack.

“Lesson learned,” Anna said. “As it comes in, we deal with it.”

The Jensens also set up drop-off locations at Full Moon Candle, 609 W. Washington St., suite #13, and at Spotlight Tanning, 715 E. First St., Port Angeles.

Donations are typically accepted all of November through Dec. 10 before being sorted and distributed.

Starting young

Helping those in need started for River at age 6 when she served meals on Christmas. A few years later, the idea sparked for her to help people with day to day items like shampoos and soaps.

“I wanted them to be cleaner and to have a better life,” River said.

For her care kits, River typically receives toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soaps, socks for both men and women, body wash, hand sanitizer, feminine hygiene products, gloves, beanies and more.

Kits are made for men and women.

Every time their friends and neighbors go to a hotel, they give bring the Jensen family toiletries, Anna said.

“Once we put it out there we were looking for (toiletries) it exploded,” she said.

In the first year, River handed out about 1,200 bags, then 1,500 the second year and 1,400 last year.

“I truly believe people want to help, but they don’t know how,” Anna said. “We’ve had people tell us that they wait to donate just for us.”

Monetary donations are accepted but all go to needed items, Anna said.

With thousands of bags given out, River makes an extra effort to encourage people.

Each kit includes a handwritten note that says things like “You’re loved” or “Don’t lose hope.”

She’s also grateful for the community’s donations.

“Without your support, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” River said. “We’re going to keep doing it.

“It’s all about helping people.”

For more information about River’s Christmas Project, contact Anna Jensen at Annajensen99@hotmail.com.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

Following the loss of her father in October, River Jensen plans to continue her project to bring toiletry bags to those in-need in the area. It’s her fourth year creating the bags, and she intends to do it through high school. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Following the loss of her father in October, River Jensen plans to continue her project to bring toiletry bags to those in-need in the area. It’s her fourth year creating the bags, and she intends to do it through high school. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

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