Bubbles for Backpacks

One family is spreading their love of gigantic bubbles to feed local children amid the pandemic

Somewhere in the South Sound, a phone pings softly with a message telling the recipient to check their porch. The sender is driving away, having already deposited her package — a Mason jar filled with bubble juice concentrate and a bubble wand. Elsewhere, dozens of miles away, a volunteer stuffs a backpack with snacks, instant soups, and fresh fruits to feed a local child over the weekend.

The correlation between bubbles and a backpack full of food may not seem apparent at first, but it’s one family’s way of spreading joy (and bubbles!) while serving others.

It’s not the couple’s first time lending a helping hand. Joe and Ingrid Barrentine have been hosting their own community diaper drive for 6 years, providing those in need with more than 100,000 diapers and 150,000 wipes. It’s also not the first time the family has played with bubbles.

Joe Barrentine blowing bubbles with his two daughters.

“I have spent more of my adult life playing with bubbles than most people think is responsible,” Joe said with a hearty laugh. “But I’m a firm believer that bubbles are fun for all ages.”

The idea to make his own bubble juice first popped into the Fircrest resident’s head several years ago when he and Ingrid attended a 1-year-old’s birthday party with their own young daughters in tow. A portion of the party’s entertainment included a bubble show with massive, shimmering bubbles that can get up to 20 or 30 feet in length. Joe was enthralled.

“I’d never seen anything like it before,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, clearly, we need to be doing more of that, whatever that is.’”

After purchasing — and subsequently exhausting — a supply of bubble juice, Joe wondered if there was a way to produce his own mixture without paying an inflated retail price.

Over the next several summers, Joe tinkered with recipes he’d found online trying to create bubbles that could be bigger, last longer, and have a property known to bubble makers as self-healing.

“The perfect bubble is elusive,” Joe said of the recipe he’s used for the past few summers. “I don’t know that I’ll ever see the perfect bubble recipe, but it’s good. It’s kind of a working man’s bubble. It lasts long enough to enjoy but it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to make.”

Ingrid refers to the concoction as “a winner.”

As winter turned to spring, Joe’s bubble production ramped up again and he readied for another season — possibly started a tad earlier than usual due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order.

Joe Barrentine making bubble wands with his daughter.

“Joe got the idea that he would make a bunch of ‘QuarenSpring 2020’ inaugural bubble juice to give to friends,” Ingrid said. “And somehow, we got to talking about selling the bubble crack to create some cash for St. Leo’s backpack program.”

The St. Leo Food Connection’s backpack program currently serves more than 1,100 children in Tacoma, Lakewood, and Puyallup, providing a weekend backpack stuffed with two days’ worth of food — three meals a day plus fresh fruit for added nutrition — so children can come to school on Monday ready to learn. A program even more vital now that schools are closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joe brewed approximately 60 quarts of bubble juice and, with the help of the couple’s two daughters, made wands with all the remaining supplies they had on hand. A $25 price tag was placed on each kit and listed on Facebook for local delivery.

“We sold out in less than 24 hours,” Ingrid said. “But that didn’t stop the donations. People continued to give even when there wasn’t bubble juice to be had.”

“Everyone is looking for a way to give back right now,” Joe said, “especially those of us who are incredibly fortunate that we’re not effected more directly by COVID or the situation around it. So, if we can find a way to help people give back, that’s great.”

Once the Barrentines saw the demand, they knew they couldn’t stop there. They ordered ample supplies online and started taking preorders through their social media channels. However, they found one ingredient to be especially hard to find.

“I need some kind of alcohol — usually its rubbing alcohol — to dilute one of the ingredients,” Joe explained. “Getting rubbing alcohol right now is just really challenging and expensive. Then, Ingrid stumbled across a bottle of cheap vodka at Trader Joe’s and I was like, ‘Let’s try it.’”

Joe went on to explain that a gallon of “bottom of the barrel” vodka sells for the same price (approximately $10) as a 16-ounce bottle of rubbing alcohol at his local drug store.

Once that conundrum had been solved, Joe packed up more than 70 bottles and wands to be delivered throughout the week. Combined with sales from the first week’s endeavor the couple has raised $3,500, which they said could fill up to 700 backpacks.

“I’m humbled by this community,” Ingrid wrote in an Instagram post below a photo of Joe blowing bubbles. “People are showing up right now in ways that inspire me to believe that when this is all said and done, we will be OK. Nothing will be as it was; but that’s fine, because we have each other. And in the end, that’s all that matters.”

Joe said he plans to continue making bubbles while there is still demand, because he knows people are looking for ways to give back. He said if people don’t want to purchase bubbles, he hopes they’ll consider some other way to serve the community during this time.

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

A kit containing a jar of bubble concentrate and a wand can be purchased online for local delivery. Order forms can be found on Instagram at the top of Joe (@253barrentine) and Ingrid’s (@ingridbarrentine) respective profiles.

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is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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