Several hundred bags of food, a side dish of holiday cheer, an assortment of toys, treats and young smiles – and, for Jurupa Valley families in need, one great holiday.
That was the scene at the annual JUSD Food Drive, Dec. 13 and 14 at Jurupa Middle School, where 300 students joined educators and community volunteers to organize, bundle and distribute food and gifts to more than 200 area families.
“I like the feeling I get when I help others," said Raelene, a freshman at Patriot High School. “The food drive is fun because it gets you in the Christmas spirit."
The vibe at the food drive was festive, with a live band playing in front of JMS, Santa Claus greeting kids with candy canes, the smell of baked potatoes wafting through the air, and a sea of student volunteers ebbing, flowing and assisting families.
Each family in need received two grocery bags of food, including rice, canned goods and in some cases hams or frozen turkeys, said Laura Roughton, food drive coordinator. Also, each child claimed a gift – such as a doll, puzzle or board game; a stocking filled with toys and snacks; and, for older students, a pair of movie tickets.
“The holidays are my favorite time of year but it can be difficult when you don't have extra money," said Maria, a mother from Ina Arbuckle Elementary. “My kids love the stocking and toys, but as a parent the food and clothing make a world of difference."
The food, clothing and toys came from donors – primarily from holiday collection drives at JUSD schools, said Ms. Roughton.
Other donors and dignitaries to participate included former Board of Trustees President Robert Garcia and members Karen Bradford and Melissa Ragole; Adopt A Family (toy and turkey donations); CAL FIRE (fire truck tours for kids); LDS Church (food donations and volunteer support); Jurupa 14 Cinemas (movie tickets); the Jurupa Valley Lions Club (a baked potato bar to feed volunteers); and county Supervisor Karen Spiegel (food donations).
Also providing key support: teachers from high schools, middle schools, elementary schools and instructors on special assignment from the district office, along with the student groups Advancement Via Individual Determination, the Associated Student Body, Future Farmers of America, and Rubidoux Early College High School.
Educators at the food drive led by example, reinforced lessons of grace and service, and helped students learn without limits:
- Lindsay Connell, assistant principal of JMS: “Here at Jurupa Middle School, we are teaching, 'Community takes care of community.' "
- Janice Cloward, JUSD teacher on special assignment and food drive coordinator: “Every year I volunteer for the food drive because I am a product of this community. I am a Rubidoux graduate. Kids matter to me and that's why I teach here."
- Shawna Cornejo, a first-grade teacher at Peralta Elementary and food drive coordinator: “The JUSD Food Drive is special not just because we provide for families in need. It is just as important that 300 student volunteers every year are changed by serving others."
Students, indeed, felt nourished by the lesson.
Yadira, a junior at Rubidoux High, said: “It makes me happy to help the community I live in. It is rewarding seeing students from different schools in JUSD all coming together for a common cause."
Raelene added, “The interaction from volunteering that left the biggest impression was handing out stockings to little kids on Saturday. It warms your heart seeing the smiles on their faces."
And Anthony, an eighth-grader at Jurupa Middle, said: “Last year, I remember a little girl coming up to me at the toy store and I handed her a doll. She was probably 7 years old. As soon as I gave her the doll, she hugged it and started to cry. It made me feel so good that the gift made her so happy."
Trustee Bradford lauded the students for their service. “I am so proud of our student volunteers," she said. “They are actively taking part in something that is truly greater than themselves."
And President Garcia, a member of the Lions Club serving baked potatoes, relayed his No. 1 memory in 10 years of working with the food drive. Several years ago, he said, a student named George, assisting in the toy area, spotted a ray gun he knew his little brother would love.
“I saw him reserve the toy gun so his brother could get it for Christmas," Mr. Garcia said.
The story resonated with Ms. Roughton.
“Few people know that student volunteers for the food drive often have families that come in for support," she said. “They may not have a lot of money, but they give their time to help others. Families know that even though they don't have much, there are always others who have a greater need."
Said Jessica, parent of a fourth-grader at Glen Avon Elementary: “The help we receive is a blessing. I want to thank everyone that helped to make this happen."