Making a difference with bubbles, masks and music

It’s been said, “When you do good, you feel good.”

If that’s true, then Joe Barrentine, Anita Fichthorn, Deanna Seaman and Rod Koon should be feeling really good these days.

These employees at the Port of Tacoma and The Northwest Seaport Alliance are harnessing their care for the community and their talents in many different ways during these challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic.

They’re not only making bubbles, masks and music. They’re also making a real difference in our community.

Joe Barrentine, Port of Tacoma's senior communications specialist

For years, Joe Barrentine has loved making bubbles. And we’re not talking Don Ho “Tiny Bubbles.”

We’re talking big bubbles. Really BIG bubbles—some as large as 20 to 30 feet long.

A true bubble believer, Barrentine has even been making his own “bubble juice” for years.

Seeing how much fun children and adults have making huge bubbles, Barrentine recently made some bubble kits—complete with bubble juice and a wand—to give to friends. Next came the idea of selling the kits to others to raise money for the Food Connection at St. Leo’s

And with the help of social media and some local newspaper coverage, the idea has really taken off.

So far, Barrentine’s team has delivered more than 300 pints of bubble concentrate and more than 350 wands. It’s a family affair, with his wife, Ingrid, and their two daughters all helping to make the bubble juice and large wands.

The bubble project is expected to raise about $12,000 to help fund the backpack program at the Food Connection. Every week, the Food Connection sends backpacks filled with enough food for six meals for a school-aged child. Each backpack costs about $5 to fill. The program is even more essential now that schools are closed because of COVID-19.

“I would encourage everyone to find a little way to help somebody around them,” Barrentine said. “Because if we can’t help each other out now, really, what is it going to take?”

Check out the video by The News Tribune:

Anita Fichthorn, The Northwest Seaport Alliance's water quality project manager

Anita Fichthorn is channeling her creativity and quilting abilities to make hundreds of much-needed masks during the health crisis.

Anita started making the masks because her daughter called her in tears. She is a nurse in a nursing home. They had many sick patients, but the staff had no personal protective equipment.

“She was afraid to go to work and afraid to go home to her kids,” Fichthorn said. “I got off the phone with her — had a moment of pure fear for my children and grandchildren — and decided the only way I could help was to use the skills I have to make them safer. The rest is history.”

Over the last two months, Fichthorn has made more than 400 masks and gets additional requests for them every day. Each mask takes her about 30 to 45 minutes to make. Facebook and word of mouth have helped create more requests for Fichthorn’s masks — including some special requests for sports team logos.

She has made masks for local nursing homes, the intensive care unit at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana, and the Sumner Food Bank. She also carries extra masks with her when she goes out shopping and gives them to older adults who aren’t on Facebook and don’t know how to get them.

“I do this to give others a sense of safety, which gives me peace of mind knowing I can help when resources are limited or completely unavailable,” Fichthorn said. “As quilters, we ALWAYS have a fabric stash and we love making beautiful things for people. Why not make beautiful, yet functional things?”

Deanna Seaman, The Northwest Seaport Alliance's senior water quality manager

When Deanna Seaman heard from co-worker Anita Fichthorn that her daughter who works in a long-term care facility was scared by their lack of masks, she hopped on the mask-making bandwagon as well.

Seaman first made masks for family members and then reached out to the Facebook group—Washington Mask Makers. The group, which has more than 9,000 members, is a resource for stitchers and sewers who want to help create masks and assist with the current mask shortage.

So far, Seaman has made more than 500 masks that have been distributed to:

  • Family members
  • Port staff members
  • Swedish Hospital
  • Salvation Army homeless shelters
  • Salvation Army soup kitchens
  • Mary’s Place

“I make the masks because it offers people some comfort and security about being out in the community,” Seaman said. “For me, whenever I can do something to help, I feel stronger and more able to help. It’s very empowering to be part of a solution.”

Rod Koon, Port of Tacoma's senior communications manager

Rod Koon is one of many Port of Tacoma employees who has been a regular Saturday morning volunteer at the Emergency Food Network (EFN) in Lakewood — repacking food to help fight hunger throughout Pierce County. But due to COVID-19, those work parties have simply not been happening.

So to continue his support of EFN, Koon turned to putting on free gigs to help raise money and collect food to fight hunger in our community. Along with fellow musicians Pete Grignon and Bob Connelly, Koon plays guitar and sings (at a socially acceptable distance) songs by artists ranging from the Beatles and Tom Petty to the Eagles and Simon and Garfunkel.

Starting in April, the trio has been playing live gigs on Saturday afternoons in Koon’s front yard near University of Puget Sound. Passersby are reminded to keep socially distant while listening to the tunes. Even on a rainy Saturday, the show went on in Koon’s backyard for a virtual concert on Facebook Live, which garnered more than 600 views. People who have dropped in on the concerts have made many food donations to EFN and cash donations of more than $2,500.

“I’ve always been amazed at the special way music can help bring people together,” Koon said. “To see people dropping by and singing along with our tunes not only helps bring a smile to their faces, it also puts a smile on my face as well. Having fun and doing good — what could be better than that?”