Whidbey’s Angels bestow blessings

— Created September 16, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Everyone needs a helping hand now and then and one Freeland woman has made it her mission to make sure no one falls through the cracks.

Cindy Buchanan created “Island Angels” within a social media group to help residents up and down Whidbey Island, whether they’re in need of food, clothing, furniture, appliances or even car repairs.

It all started with a simple post on the Whidbey Island Community Facebook group.

“In the beginning, a lady put out on Facebook ‘We have a box of food we’re giving away;’ then it got taken,” Buchanan described. “Another lady wrote below it, ‘If anybody else has some, keep me in mind.’ I messaged her privately and it ended up she had COPD, her husband had fourth stage kidney cancer, so I gathered up some things and took food to her. We filled her fridge. Then people started messaging me and it just kept growing and growing.”

Buchanan, who possesses a delightful laugh and a positive attitude to boot, began her efforts just before the COVID crisis hit. She started gathering up food donations but the requests for assistance grew to include other needs.

“Someone needed help paying their phone bill and things just kept going,” she said. “One lady needed new tires, another lady needed brakes, someone else needed a new refrigerator. It doesn’t surprise me because I know a lot of people won’t ask for help.”

For the past month alone, Buchanan said she has given out 20 to 30 boxes of food per week. She said some people don’t qualify for assistance from the island’s food banks, can’t afford increasing prices, or simply don’t get enough to feed their families. In the short time since Island Angels began, she has seen the needs increase.

“I think the needs have always been there, but they have grown,” she said. “There’s a new group of people who have never had to do this before – they’ve lost their jobs and entered this new realm of ‘Hello, this is serious.'”

So far, Buchanan has been doing much of the actual work packing boxes and making deliveries herself, although she said she would not be able to do it if not for the generosity of friends, neighbors, businesses and nonprofits on the island. People donate food, requested items or their skills to make repairs. Many people simply donate money. Buchanan has collected many overflow items, so she is holding a fundraising garage sale this Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Buchanan said she loves everything about what she is doing with Island Angels, and said she is noticing a trend – people who have received help are now doing what they can to give back.

“I lost my job in April,” said a woman who asked not to use her name. We’ll call her ‘Jane.’

“I saw Cindy’s message on Facebook and she came and brought wonderful stuff; I was without anything,” described Jane, saying she had been surviving on eggs from her chickens and moldy bread. “I was too proud to say anything. I’d never had this problem before.

“I didn’t want to take without giving back,” she continued. “I’ve been giving her my eggs; I feel like I’m trading for things I need. I’m trying to give back. Everybody needs to start doing that.”

Beverly and Bob Pearce, of Freeland, saw Buchanan’s posts and went through their cupboards and freezers to donate what they could.

“We are both on social security with a very tight income, but we could share to help feed others,” Beverly said in an email to Whidbey Weekly. “As Cindy began having more and more people reach out and the lists became larger, we went through everything again and have actually had some items to give most every week. Not much, but it all helps.”

Beverly said her husband is undergoing medical treatment that requires frequent travel to Mount Vernon, and Buchanan surprised them with a welcome gift, though they hadn’t asked for anything.

“[We are making] countless round trips off the north end of the island and on to Mount Vernon. It is beyond breaking the bank,” she said. “When Cindy showed up [to pick] up our weekly items, she handed us a gas card. WOW! She has sprinkled us with weeks of meat before and now this. We are blessed to have Island Angels. We are proud to be a part of Island Angels; both as helpers and as receivers.” 

“What Cindy does is quite special, she embodies the spirit of the community, and draws it towards her to bless everybody else,” said Jo Fick, who lives in Michigan but has visited her son on Whidbey Island and hopes to someday call the island home. She connected with Island Angels through Buchanan’s posts.

“She is a superspreader of love,” Fick continued. “I haven’t met the other helpers yet, but I know there are lots of them, and they all have that selfless, generous attitude. And it’s interesting to see the give and take. The more the group does, the more other people hear about it, because it literally happens every day. And the more people hear about it, the more they become engaged, connected and committed.”

There is no official vetting process for the requests. Buchanan said she has a large enough network established to be able to distinguish genuine requests. There are also no requirements for anyone asking for assistance – well, maybe there’s one.

“I don’t want to help someone who’s not gonna help themselves,” she said. “You see people moving forward, doing better, then they start producing and give back whatever they can. They get a more positive attitude. I just like them to know there are good people out there and they’re helping, with no limitations, no questions asked. We’re just trying to help people. People don’t plan this stuff, it just happens.”

Another woman, who asked not to be identified, said she recently gave a donation after watching things unfold on social media for a bit.

“We are fortunate to be retired and have our same income through this time of the pandemic,” she said. “So many people are dramatically affected, and I admire and support the network of help that Cindy Buchanan has created.  The skeptical side of me observed for a while, wondering if she was totally on the up and up and if the people seeking help really needed it, but I got a sense of basic goodness and honesty all the way around. I know that Cindy is reaching people who really appreciate the kindness and help.”

Buchanan said she plans to continue Island Angels’ work as long as it’s necessary. Her home is nearly overflowing with food and other items that go out almost as quickly as they come in. She said her dream is to one day give Island Angels its own, permanent home. In the meantime, she’ll continue making “Blessing Bags” and offering her own special brand of care and compassion up and down Whidbey Island.

“If only communities everywhere could come together in such a way,” said Fick. “The needs aren’t going away – if anything, there are more than ever. [Cindy] has such integrity, compassion, energy and love; I don’t know how she does it.”

“We’re in this together, one day at a time. Island Strong,” Beverly said. “Cindy Buchanan embraces all that is described in the word ‘Angel.'”

“I want people to know there is something out there besides fear,” Jane said. We can thrive, we can work together and make it. I’m so thankful I live on Whidbey Island; I have community support, people around me who are like family, and they’ll help others. It’s really beautiful.”

Anyone interested in contacting Buchanan can search for her on the Whidbey Island Community group page on Facebook.

“Doing this makes you grateful,” said Buchanan. “It’s a paycheck nobody else can give you – a whole different kind of paycheck.”