Students of Peace & Justice Academy Collect 500 Blankets for the Homeless
(Altadena, CA) This story actually began in October, 2012, when the students of the Peace & Justice Academy participated in the United Methodist Church's Shalom Summit 2012 in downtown Los Angeles. It was the 20th Anniversary of both the Rodney King riots and the foundation of the Shalom Zone. The PAJA middle schoolers attended the conference at the Biltmore Hotel and then took a walking tour of the service providers on Skid Row. Prior to this walk, most of the students had only heard about homelessness. Now they were right in the middle of it. Adrian Arcaro, a sixth-grader, was overcome by the number of people sleeping on the sidewalk -- without even a blanket. "It was pretty cold that day," said Adrian, "At least a blanket would help them be warm."
Adrian teamed with fellow sixth-grader Madison Gibson, and tenth-graders Casey Gibson and Johnny Jones and their respective mothers to come up with a plan to do something. They brought their idea for a blanket drive to executive director Kimberly Medendorp, who was happy to bless this community service project, the first one conceived totally by the students. Over the next four months the students created and implemented a plan that attracted almost 500 pieces. They made a presentation at St. James Methodist Church asking for help and were overwhelmed with the donations, not just of blankets, but money, food and clothing, too. They got a big boost from the father of one of their fellow students. He works for Farmer's Insurance. "One day, he brought in three big boxes full of blankets that were left over from a promotional event. We had barely started and we already had 200 blankets!" said Casey.
At the core of the Peace & Justice education model is the belief that the students should go into the community to learn about issues first-hand, so that they can begin to imagine ways to solve the problems they will face as adults. Every month they participate in a Peace & Justice lab that might take them to City Hall to stand up for Fair Trade businesses, on a bus trip to the Manzanar Relocation Center to relive the Japanese internment, or on a trip to downtown Pasadena to explore how different the world is if you can't see, hear, or talk.
In the end, the PAJA student made three blanket distributions. In Pasadena, they dropped off blankets in Memorial Park through the auspices of the Salvation Army. Johnny helped distribute blankets in the park and remembers the looks on the faces of people when they got their new blanket. "It made me feel very good," he said. They also took a load to the Walter Hoving Home for Women and their final distribution was at My Friend's Place, a shelter for homeless youth in Hollywood.
After unloading the blankets and jackets into the clothing closet in the youth shelter, the students learned from the shelter's director of development, Alexis McLeod, that the group serves 80 homeless youth every day, and about 65 percent are girls and 35 percent are boys. They also learned there are 4000 homeless teens in Los Angeles, many are former foster children. The weather on Friday was cold and rainy, adding a dramatic backdrop to the school's delivery. For the students the lesson was clear. "The simple fact that a small group of kids and their mothers could find 500 blankets is pretty impressive. The entire world ought to be able to work together and help each other out," concludes Casey. The students have decided that the blanket drive will be an annual event.
Visit the Peace & Justice website for more information at: www.thepeaceacademy.org.
Alexis McLeod of My Friend's Place, poses with three of the organizers: Adrian Arcaro, Johnny Jones and Casey Gibson.
The students of the Peace & Justice Academy deliver hundreds of blankets and jackets to My Friend's Place teen shelter in Hollywood.