Volunteers with the Walls of Love organization transformed the fence in front of Denali Elementary School into a place of giving Saturday morning.

Working steadily for more than an hour, the group affixed 600 plastic zippers filled with items such as soap, washcloths, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, lotion and small snacks onto the fence. A banner amid the bags explained the concept of the wall: “Please take what you need. Leave the rest for others. Pay it forward when you can.”

Founded in 2018 by Holly Jackson, Walls of Love is a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to providing basic necessities to those experiencing homelessness or poverty. Formerly homeless herself, Jackson conceived of the idea as a way to give back to her community and give hope to those struggling as she once did. Since its inception, the organization has erected over 485 walls and helped more than 70,000 people. 

Saturday’s event was organized by Teagan Gutka and Hailey Baker, friends who first met while attending Ben Eielson High School. Gutka, who moved with her family to Colorado, got involved with the organization while attending college in Boulder. After Baker heard about it, she asked Gutka to help her stage a Wall of Love in Fairbanks.

Though the organization usually collects donated items and has the volunteers fill them as they’re hung on the wall, the process was altered due to the current pandemic.

“Because of COVID, we wanted to keep everything as sanitary as possible,” Gutka said. “We collected monetary donations through Venmo, Cash App and Facebook fundraisers for about a month, and then Holly (Jackson) mailed all of the supplies to my house in Colorado Springs. My family and I sat down and bagged everything up and I brought it all in my suitcases.”

Once all of the bags have been taken, the volunteers will return to remove the zip ties and tidy the area if needed. The banner, which was loaned to Gutka just for this event, will go back with her when she returns to Colorado.

Gutka said she enjoyed organizing the event and hopes it inspires Fairbanksans to begin their own Walls of Love tradition.

“This is just kind of a one time thing, but if somebody else wanted to do it again they could.”  

Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.