Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to newstips@seattletimes.com with the subject “Stepping Up.”

An idea from artist Brook Meinhardt is helping Orcas Island students stay busy while their schools are closed due to the coronavirus.

Meinhardt, an Orcas Island art teacher and program director of Art for Orcas Kids, which brings artists into classrooms to work with kids, has been handing out free, age-appropriate art kits to students in all grades.

“The minute schools closed, I thought of things I would do with my kids to keep them busy when they came home, and I thought of all my students and thought I could easily put together some kind of an art kit for school kids,” Meinhardt said. “Almost immediately, I got the OK to do it, so I was thrilled.”

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Meinhardt, who has taught in Orcas Island schools for five years, said there are a lot of activities in the kits and she has been told she should simplify them, “but I keep thinking of the kids.”

“I want them to be so excited and entertained because it’s such a bummer of a time right now,” she added. “Each packet (for younger kids) has three or four different art exercises or projects.”

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The kits for high school students are centered on a graphic novel project that she was hoping to begin before schools closed.

“I put together a pretty intense cartooning program,” she said.

Meinhardt said she is making new art kits each week and “I’m getting amped up to do it again.” The first week she gave out 73. She said she is getting new orders every hour and this past week gave out 127 (there are 464 students in the Orcas Island District, according to its website).

“It’s getting crazy because I am doing it all myself,” said Meinhardt, who said she is spending about five or six hours a day on the project.

The items in the art kits have either been donated or are items that are being reused.

The Exchange, a reuse store on the island that is run by Meinhardt’s former husband, Peter Moe, has helped sponsor the program by donating items for her to use.

“It was kind of a no-brainer to help out with a project like that,” Moe said.

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Meinhardt came up with the idea before she knew that Art for Orcas Kids would pay her to do this.

“I did it because I wanted to help the families on Orcas Island,” she said. “I knew I could do it, and I was pretty determined to do it no matter what. I was going to really miss my students and I loved the idea of staying connected to them.”

The feedback has been phenomenal, Meinhardt said, from thank-you notes to pictures of the completed artwork from the kits.

Meinhardt gives students their first assignment when she responds to their emailed order, asking them to make a sign that has the word “art” on it that can be displayed when they pick up their art kit.

“For the hour and a half I handed them out, there was so much joy and laughter, even though I was 6 feet away from the kids,” she said.

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