Family’s gift packages keep community ties strong in Washington state

December 16, 2020
Family’s gift packages keep community ties strong in Washington state

It was several months into the COVID-19 quarantine and the Cook family, parents Linda and Brad and daughters Emily, 20, and Jessie, 14, of Pullman, Washington, were missing their friends in their rural Baha’i community.

Emily was home between semesters at Idaho State University. Jessie was isolated from her four-family homeschooling group, who were used to seeing one another several times a week.

“It’s been really challenging for them to not get to see their friends and their Baha’i peer group,” explains Linda Cook, whose family lives on a farm about 10 miles from the Idaho border.

So ’round about July, the Cooks cooked up a plan to create gift boxes to deliver to local Baha’i families as part of their celebration of the births of the Founders of the Baha’i Faith, the Bab and Baha’u’llah, observed this year on Oct. 18–19.

Local Baha’is maintain “a very tight-knit community, despite the geographical distance,” Linda Cook says. The family carried out the project to help keep those connections strong.

They gathered about 20 shoeboxes and filled them with small surprises: a jar of fresh blackberry jelly, made from berries the girls picked along the banks of the Snake River; bookmarks; decals; and other trinkets. Both girls are avid bakers so they added a bag of homemade cookies.

“I liked making the jam and chapstick holders and planting the succulents,” Jessie said.

Each box included a tiny potted plant, made from a clipping from a succulent that was a gift to Linda from a Baha’i friend who moved to Texas some 10 years prior.

“She gave me a plant that she wasn’t taking with her,” Linda says. “I kept that plant and it has really grown.” People were excited to learn about the source of the cuttings, Linda says, because almost everyone has met and remembers her friend. “So they now all have a little piece of her plant.”

Each box had the following decorated note taped to it:

HAPPY TWIN BIRTHDAYS 2020! We hope you enjoy this birthday celebration box. If you are able to join us for the Zoom celebration on Sunday, 4:00 pm, please wait to open your box until then, and we will open them together (whee!). If you cannot join us on Zoom, open your box whenever you feel like it (also whee!). Warmest Baha’i love from the Whitman County Community. P.S. Don’t tip or shake the box!

On the Saturday morning before the twin birthdays, with Mama Linda and Emily in one car, Papa Brad and Jessie in the other, they zipped around Pullman and the county, leaving packages on the doorsteps of all the Baha’i homes.

Jessie and Emily Cook picked blackberries to make the jelly that was included in their Twin Holy Birthday gift boxes. Photo courtesy of Linda Cook

The girls would put a gift box down on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, and trot back to the car. When the door opened, they’d wave to their friend on the doorstep and drive away.

“Because we have a number of single older people in our community and there’s an inherent risk in seeing them face to face, this was the way that everybody could be included,” Linda says.

Emily said delivering the packages was her favorite part of the whole activity. “It brought us joy to see people’s reactions when they opened their doors and saw the packages,” she says.

“I think that doing the drops that morning with the invitation was a good reminder” of the community Zoom gathering, Linda says. “I think everybody except for one person was on that zoom call that afternoon.” Linda said that opening the boxes together on the call was a lot of fun.

The Cook daughters have some advice for anyone else who would like to do something similar in their communities.

“We would recommend that you hand-make some of the gifts or add a card for a personal touch,” Emily says. “Making a list of all the households and how many people is a good way to keep track of who to make baskets for.”

“We also customized the boxes to some extent,” says Jessie. “For example, in households with younger kids we had Legos that we put in, but the grandparents got devotional booklets and nine-pointed-star paperclips.”

Pullman, where the Cooks live, is a college town of some 35,000 and the largest in the area. While it has had a Baha’i community for more than 40 years, says Linda, the Baha’i community in outlying Whitman County is fairly new.

“It’s kind of a magnet community. We have probably half a dozen families who, when they moved into this area, sort of attracted other members of their extended families. I know other people in the Northwest who are seriously thinking about moving to this community because it is so active and vibrant.”

As a biology teacher at Washington State University, Cook says her Baha’i Faith impacts her work all the time.

She sees her students concerned about “all the divisiveness that is rampant in our society … the division that we see, and the fighting, and the disagreement. I’ve had students come to me in distress and say, ‘What is happening? What can we do?’”

So drawing on her understanding of Baha’i teachings, “I definitely remind them of the idea of tolerance and unity and overlooking one another’s shortcomings, and also most importantly, their individual responsibility. You know, I tell them, you as an individual, can’t change the world, but you can change you. And if you are disturbed by what you see, make a change in your life.”

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