Solana Beach students pack meals for typhoon victims in the Philippines

By Kristina Houck

Just before Thanksgiving, local students, parents, teachers and community members came together to help feed the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

More than 1,500 volunteers, including the roughly 1,000 K-12 students at Santa Fe Christian Schools, assembled more than 200,000 meals Nov. 21 and 22 at the Solana Beach-based school.

“We want our kids to understand that not everybody lives like we’ve been blessed to be able to live,” said Tom Bennett, head of schools. “There are a lot of people with substantial needs out there. We want them to understand that early, be thankful and realize how blessed we are.”

Nearly 5,600 people were killed in the Nov. 8 super typhoon. About 1,700 people are still missing and more than 3.8 million have been displaced.

To provide some relief, students and volunteers assembled food packages of rice, soy meal, dried vegetables and vitamin supplements. Each package cost $0.25.

“I feel really blessed that we are able to help people,” said 11-year-old Morgan Yacullo. She and several of her sixth grade classmates at Santa Fe Christian held a bake sale to raise funds for the project. The group raised $1,000.

“It’s amazing how our school let’s us do this. We get to help people. It feels so good to give back.”

“I’m learning that we have so many different blessings,” added 12-year-old Lauren Geiser. “It’s important to give back.”

The food packaging effort was part of Santa Fe Christian’s third annual “Give Thanks, Give Back” service project in coordination with Friends and Family Community Connection. The local nonprofit organization and its partners have purchased, packaged and shipped more than 9 million meals to people across the U.S. and overseas.

During the first year of “Give Thanks, Give Back,” Santa Fe Christian’s kindergartners through fifth graders helped package about 40,000 meals for those in need in Haiti and the U.S. Students helped package about 55,000 meals the following year.

This year, organizers decided to expand the project to include all students, raise $50,000 and package 200,000 meals.

“There was no rhyme or reason behind that number, we just thought we could do it,” said coordinator and parent Janelle Nelson. “When the typhoon in the Philippines happened, we realized we were supposed to do this many.”

The Carmel Valley resident approached school administrators about the concept for the service project three years ago. At the time, she was organizing a Thanksgiving party for her children’s classrooms.

“It seemed backward to celebrate us rather than paying it forward,” said Nelson, whose son and daughter are now in fifth and fourth grade.

“It’s really awesome to be at a school that embraces being able to pull the entire community together to serve the needs of others,” she added. “We all come together to bring hope, and relief to people who really need it.”

In addition to the 200,000 meals packaged at Santa Fe Christian, 100,000 meals were packaged at Poway High School. The 300,000 meals, along with more than 1,000 water filters, and a variety of toiletries and over-the-counter medications, will be sent in a 40-foot shipping container.

“It’s really fun to know that you’re helping other people,” said 11-year-old Amara Dumas. “It’s a great opportunity to serve God.”

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