Leave it to the teachers and students in the Los Alamitos High School math department to show how kindness multiplies.
“I was blown away by the generosity of my students and their families!,” math teacher Janelle Fox wrote in an email message to Spotlight Schools. Fox and her department recently raised more than $13,000 for the annual holiday donation drive put on by the school’s student-run Interact Club this month. Some math teachers set all-time fundraising records with their classes, “so we were really proud of their efforts,” Fox added.
The math department is just one part of the equation for this yearly tradition that benefits multiple families at each of the Los Alamitos Unified School District’s nine campuses as well as families at Casa Youth Shelter in Los Alamitos.
Campus departments or groups sponsor a family or person that remains anonymous. They collect donations and then purchase gift cards, household essentials, clothing and other items that are requested by the community members in need of a lift during the holiday season.
“Although we don’t give out names or too much information about the families and individuals we are collecting for, knowing that these are people in our Los Al community really helps motivate the students to donate,” math teacher Tracy March wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools saying she passed an envelope around her classroom for students to make a donation for seven days during the donation drive. “Students love to cheer with excitement while we count! It really is a fun tradition we do here at Los Al,” she wrote.
The “Holiday Giving Drive,” previously known as the “Dear Santa Drive,” has been orchestrated for years by the Los Alamitos High School Interact Club, a decades-old student organization dedicated to community service. It’s connected to Rotary International and is sponsored locally by the Los Alamitos/Seal Beach Rotary Club. Their motto is “Service above self.”
“We have a giving heart,” LAHS social studies teacher Pauline Grimshaw said of the community. Grimshaw is the adviser to the LAHS Interact Club and the person who sends emails to campus principals and counselors every October to find out which local families could use support during the holiday season.
In an interview in her classroom earlier this month Grimshaw explained how the need exists right here in the school district. “We have kids that are homeless living in their cars,” she said.
This year’s drive generated donations in money and items totaling around $40,000 to benefit more than twenty families and twenty individuals, according to Grimshaw. She said in addition to the math department, numerous people and groups in the district sponsor families to make the drive a yearly success. That includes the LAHS Show Choir, booster clubs, high school administrators, the district office and more. This year Yamaha donated a keyboard to the drive, according to Grimshaw, who has taught at LAHS for more than thirty years.
“That’s what Los Al has always been about. We’re a community and we care for one another,” she said with a warm smile. Grimshaw said the club is carrying on the tradition that blossomed under the leadership of beloved LAHS teacher Jim Cross, who passed away in 2005.
And students continue to be at the heart of the effort, including the leaders of the Interact Club.
“On the outside, you don’t really know who is struggling,” LAHS senior Megan Nakasone, president of the Interact Club, said in an interview this month. She said she feels good knowing she and the club help others in the community. “It’s just great that we know that we have an impact on the people around us,” Megan said, explaining that she loved seeing her friends and classmates pitch in with a common goal to assist others.
“It’s really easy to get stuck in your own bubble,”Sara Gielow, vice president of the club and a senior at LAHS said in an interview this month. “It’s important for teenagers especially to give and to have this experience of giving,” she added, noting that she was struck when her math teacher described some of the hardships fellow district families were facing and how donations could support them.
Sara and Megan noted that students could contribute in other ways like assisting in the delivery of the donated items. Sara, Megan and other Interact Club members brought the donations to the schools and Casa Youth Shelter December 15 and 16.
“The donation is a big relief for our families and provides lots of joy,” Andrea Zbucki, a case manager at Casa Youth Shelter wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools this month. She said the holidays are a busy time and many families seek assistance as they struggle with work or keeping food on the table.
“Our families are so excited and emotional from the very beginning of this process. Many of them cried tears of happiness when I first let them know of the LAHS Interact Club donation drive,” Zbucki said and added that the families were super grateful for the support and generosity.
“Our community is so strong and the love they have for Casa Youth Shelter is so impactful and felt by all our families,” she said.