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Ahead of the Carve


Like everything else, Halloween looked different this year. To ensure social distancing, many Jurupa families participated in local “trunk or treat” events over traditional neighborhood trick-or-treating, while JUSD students shared their costumes over Google Meet rather than in the classroom. Throughout the city, community members found creative, safe ways to enjoy the holiday during a challenging time.

Van Buren Staff
Since Juanita Capan began working at Van Buren Elementary twenty years ago, the cafeteria manager has been involved with Halloween events at the school, including an annual pumpkin patch. COVID-19 and distance learning meant festivities could not go on as usual this year, but Juanita was not deterred.

“This pandemic is not going to stop me,” said the cafeteria manager. “This is for my kids.”

With school sites closed to students, Juanita decided the best way to move forward was to hand out pumpkins for free with Grab-N-Go meals. Van Buren Elementary serves between 350 and 500 meals every day, making it one of JUSD’s highest serving school sites. Juanita knew she would need a lot of pumpkins.

The donations were a group effort. “Juanita started making calls and the pumpkins started coming,” said Head Custodian Maria Sigala, who helped with the giveaway. The local Wal-Mart donated thirty pumpkins, while pumpkin patches in Victorville provided another twenty-five. The rest were contributed by fellow Van Buren staff members, bringing Juanita’s total to 100 pumpkins.

​“Everybody has helped and pitched in,” she said. “I’m glad everybody came through.”

Pumpkins surround a festive stand​On Monday, October 26th, which also happened to be National Pumpkin Day, Juanita and her team of helpers continued their long-held tradition. High wind warnings were in effect throughout Southern California and numerous schools and homes were without power. The drop in temperature and strong gusts evoked the spirit of Halloween as Juanita and Maria arranged pumpkins around a festively decorated stand. Already undeterred by the pandemic, Juanita also did not balk in the face of extreme weather.

As cars pulled up for Grab-N-Go meals, she and Maria fought the wind to carry over pumpkins from the collection while cafeteria staff readied lunches. “Happy Halloween,” they greeted, handing the famous gourd over to grateful parents and delighted children. The event had not been publicized, so each giveaway came as a surprise. The pumpkins were so large that some kids had trouble lifting them as they posed for photos.

A little girl holds a huge pumpkin“Even if it’s one pumpkin per family, at least they get something,” said Juanita. “I’m also giving them a little bit of candy inside their lunches today, so they’ll get excited and know that we’re still here. We haven’t gone away.”

With all the experiences and events students and their families are missing out on because of COVID-19, Maria is glad her school can still offer this one. “My favorite part is seeing all the happy faces,” the Head Custodian shared.

Juanita continues to think of ways to help kids during distance learning. In December, she plans to hand out school supplies and candy canes to mark the upcoming holidays.

“When they come through the line, I think the kids feel like we’ve forgotten about them, but we haven’t,” insisted Juanita. “I want them to understand we’re not going anywhere. Ms. Juanita is still doing the same thing as before. I’m taking care of my babies.”