Four-year-old Kailey Wartinger could count her possessions on one hand after a December fire ravaged the two-bedroom Shoreline apartment where she lived with her mom. Everything that wasn’t burned in the blaze itself was ruined by water damage. When the firefighters packed up their gear, Kailey was left with just two undamaged toys and a handful of clothes for the winter.
But Kailey didn’t even have time to process the fact that everything she owned was gone. Thanks to the generosity of others, including a host of strangers, by the day after the fire, Kailey had more clothes and toys than before.
Kailey is a student at North City Cooperative Preschool, one of seven co-ops serving 500 students under the umbrella of Shoreline Community College. The co-ops form a tight-knit community that, as Kailey and her family came to learn, rallies around its members and welcomes all with open arms.
The day of the fire, North City Co-op Director Cathy Childs sent a message asking for donations to the parents of the 17 other students in Kailey’s co-op.
“I asked for clothes and perhaps a few toys,” Childs said, hoping to help mom and daughter. “But North City rallied around the family by providing meals, clothing, toys and household items and by the next day there were boxes and bags full of items for the girl and her mother.”
The donations filled eight wagons, and some volunteers are still storing furniture for the family until they can move into a new place.
The generosity didn’t end there. Word spread throughout the larger community and the rest of the co-op system, and families from as far away as Bothell reached out to assist a family they’d never met.
“All six of the other co-ops under the Shoreline umbrella responded immediately with offers of clothes, toys, money, food, books and services or ‘anything else we can do,’” Childs said. “The most touching was when Crystal Springs co-op pre-school in Bothell donated a month of tuition for the family in need. I was like, really? We work together but I am your competition and you’re paying tuition for this family to come here? I was blown away.”
A local church even made sure that Kailey’s exact bedding set featuring characters from the movie “Frozen” was replaced so that Kailey could take comfort in that bit of continuity from her old life. When the family could no longer find room for the donations of goods pouring in, Kailey’s aunt started a gofundme page that raised over $500.
“I work hard to build a sense of community here, but sometimes I just get my socks knocked off by how good people can be,” Childs said. “This was one of those times.”
Childs has worked in education for 30 years, but said she’s never experienced anything quite like the co-op system.
“I’ve never been as passionate about early childhood education as I am at North City because you do get such an overwhelming sense of family here,” she said. “Everyone is welcome, everyone pulls together and I feel more supported to empower the kids here than I have anywhere else. We’re tight. Even after the kids move on to grade school, I’m in touch with so many of them and their parents still.”
Pollie McCloskey, Parenting Education Program Coordinator at Shoreline, agreed with Childs’ sentiment: “It has been phenomenal to watch how deeply rooted and widespread the co-op community is. And (since the fire) it’s been heartening to know that Shoreline Community College is engaged in the community this way, and that we’re really helping strengthen families from Shoreline to Woodinville.”
For now, home is temporarily with a grandmother, and next year Kailey will move on to kindergarten at Lake Forest Park Elementary. Katie Wartinger, Kailey’s aunt, says her niece will miss the sense of community at North City: “You feel good bringing your kid here because you know she’s going to learn and explore and get everything she needs while also being part of a larger family.” And after the outpouring they experienced, it’s especially hard to leave.
“It’s a wonderful place to be,” Katie Wartinger said. “They’re in our lives now. For good.”