Da Vinci Charter Academy has long had a tradition of a “Community Feast,” where students gathered for fun, food and community-building.
Their counterparts at Da Vinci Junior High are continuing the tradition, but adding a new component as well: community service.
Last week, 260 Da Vinci Junior High students biked or were bused over to the Veterans’ Memorial Center where they spent the day enjoying all the fun and food of the traditional feast, while also lending a hand to two local organizations: Yolo Military Families and Project Linus.
The students helped assemble care packages that Yolo Military Families will send overseas to soldiers — even including handmade cards for each box — and also made fleece blankets that Project Linus will be shipping off to the East Coast, providing comfort to children affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Adding community service to the feast is a new idea, said Da Vinci leadership student Elaina Hope.
Last year, the leadership students assisted Project Linus, she said, but helping military families is something new, as is incorporating all of it into the feast.
Classmate Eli Weiss said parents donated many of the care package items, card stock and food for the feast, while the Da Vinci students themselves provided the labor.
And that’s the key.
Jay Brookman, commander of VFW Post 6949, noted that Yolo Military Families does a great job of collecting items for care packages, “but they run out of labor to put it all together.”
In his capacity as commander, Brookman said he has been focusing on forming more community partnerships, particularly with younger community members, and the partnership between Da Vinci and the military families certainly fit the bill.
Last week’s feast was the first real event that achieved those goals, Brookman said.
The VFW put the Da Vinci students in touch with Yolo Military Families, and the connection couldn’t have come at a better time.
Linda Smith, the unofficial leader of the group, said members used to assemble all the care packages on their own.
“But the need just got too great,” she said, “and we just couldn’t do it ourselves.”
Since then, the community has been a huge help, she said, and the Da Vinci students last week were, too.
In fact, in just a couple of hours on Tuesday morning, students did what would have taken Smith and other family members a full Saturday to do.
Students sorted and divided supplies ranging from canned food and chewing gum to razors, cough drops, Q-tips and pipe cleaners (which soldiers use to clean their guns). Also included in each care package will be a handmade card. Da Vinci seventh-grader Audrey Borba made several cards, most offering encouragement and thanks to the soldiers for their service.
Smith estimated that well over 100 soldiers will receive care packages thanks to the Da Vinci students’ efforts.
Meanwhile, some two dozen children affected or displaced by Hurricane Sandy will receive colorful and cozy fleece blankets. The Da Vinci Boosters Club provided funding to purchase blanket kits and on Tuesday students were tying and sewing the blankets together.
Da Vinci student Eliana Meyer actually focused on Project Linus for her bat mitzvah service project last year, making and donating blankets and raising funds for the organization as well. On Tuesday, she was at the Vets’ Center, working on a fleece blanket with classmates Christopher Monheit and Meagan Donaldson, while other students worked nearby.
Diane McGee, chapter coordinator for Project Linus, said Scott Yoder of PakMail has agreed to donate his time to box up the blankets — not to mention donating the boxes themselves and part of the postage — to ship them across the country to Sandy’s victims.
The blankets, McGee noted, are pretty heavy, and shipping 200 of them can cost $600 — even after Yoder provides a discount.
“If anyone in the community wants to send a check to help with postage,” she said, it would be appreciated. Just contact McGee at email@example.com or 530-400-5458.
The Yolo County chapter of Project Linus, a national nonprofit organization, has been providing blankets to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need, since 2008. The chapter has sent blankets to victims of the Haiti earthquake and the Japan earthquake and tsunami, as well as to children in and around Yolo County.
Helping Project Linus, not to mention soldiers oversees, “speaks to the values of Da Vinci, engaging with the community and giving back,” said Principal Rody Boonchouy.
It’s not a bad way to spend a day either.
“The kids are having fun,” noted leadership teacher Sarah Barnes as she surveyed a packed room of junior high students eating, making blankets and cards and generally just having a good time.
“It’s been really good,” she said.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy