As a gift to our island’s children the past holiday season, the Whidbey Island Arts Council donated bags of art supplies.

“For several years now, we’ve been giving out art supplies to children,” said Kay Parsons, president of the Whidbey Island Arts Council. “This holiday season was the most extensive. We gave away 300 bags.”

Children received art supplies, including sketchbooks, watercolors, pencils, brushes, and an artist’s eraser. 

Art supplies donated to 300 Island County children by the Whidbey Island Arts Council. Photo shared by Kay Parsons

“It’s something to get them started and we are making sure they have basic art supplies,” Kay added. “The community has been good to us in terms of funding these children’s programs. The art bags were funded solely by donations.”

Among the recipients of the art supplies was Debra Rusnak’s class at Crescent Harbor Elementary School in Oak Harbor. 

Student reacts to art supplies gifted during the 2021 holidays by the Whidbey Island Arts Council. Photo shared by Kay Parsons
Another student in Debra Rusnak’s class and her donated art supplies. Photo shared by Kay Parsons
Debra Rusnak’s student in Oak Harbor receives a bag of art supplies donated by the Whidbey Island Arts Council. Photo shared by Kay Parsons

“This is the BEST!” Debra wrote in a late November Facebook comment. “Crescent Harbor Kids are lucky to have caring adults in their lives. Thank you Arts Council.”

Kay Parsons said during a recent phone chat that her group donated 200 bags of art supplies to students in Oak Harbor elementary schools

“We give supplies all over, but this is the first year I had a teacher reach out,” Kay wrote in a text.

Below are some of the letters Crescent Harbor Elementary students wrote in thanks to the arts council. Some students will write stories accompanied with drawings, others will draw a gorilla, another will draw Spiderman, another will share the supplies with a sister. Kay Parsons shared these images:

Learning that a number of students come from poor families, Kay said a hundred bags were also donated to children in foster care. She credits Kelly Zupich, executive director for Sound Water Stewards, for connecting the arts council with Kathy McLean, executive director of foster care nonprofit Kids First Island County. 

“Fifty of those bags were for preschoolers and contained big crayons and pencils,” Kay added. “We want all children on Whidbey to have creative tools and access to supplies and what they need to move out into the world creatively.”

Mentioning others who helped out with the ongoing art supplies project, Kay was grateful to the late Ann Wilson, an artist on the island, who first funded the program years ago.

“We used to call it the sketchbook program,” Kay said during a phone call last week. “I’m proud of this. Happily, as a community organization for the arts, we can do this for children.”

Using watercolor paints donated by the Whidbey Island Arts Council, a student from Crescent Harbor Elementary School in Oak Harbor painted this tropical scene. Photo shared by Kay Parsons

In 2021 Knight Arndt helped in assembling the bags. Her help was much appreciated, Kay noted.

During the first year of the pandemic, the arts council held Zoom classes in 2020 as a way of reaching out and bringing creativity to kids at home. Artist Melissa Koch, a multimedia artist, whose passion for the Earth and teaching young people, was in her element. Working with the arts council and South Whidbey Parks and Recreation, Melissa focused on teaching art of the Haida Nation.

“It was our arts council classes that just about fell apart during the pandemic,” Kay wrote in an email. “Zoom went well for a while, but attendance fell off as the vaccines began. That spurt of optimism created a space for parents to allow their children outside and congregate with friends.”

Any parent or teacher who requests art supplies for children can contact the arts council, which also provides free art classes for children 8-13, asking that parents fill out this online release form.

Another student artist painted this scene of palm trees with materials donated by the Whidbey Island Arts Council. Photo shared by Kay Parsons

“We want children to be okay,” Kay said. “We have to reach out with whatever tools and resources we have. It is important to let children know we value their creativity. Children need space to learn. They don’t come out fully formed. Having a skill coming out of childhood is something you practice.”

An artist since she was young, Kay Parsons said she was “always making something like mud pies, or drawing. As she grew older she painted and learned to work with fiber arts. “I learned to knit with two pencils!” 

She believes being creative helps during hard times.

Meanwhile Jan. 5 is opening day for Whidbey Working Artists to register for the 2022 Open Studio Tour Aug. 20 and 21. During these gray days with little light, it is hard to imagine August.

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  1. Judy Thorslund on

    What a wonderful gift, and article. The photos were terrific and all in all, a great Whidbey Island story! Thanks to all.

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