The following content has been mined and edited from a press release from the Peace & Justice Academy:
This story actually began in October, 2012, when the students of the Peace & Justice Academy participated in the United Methodist Church’s Shalom Summit in downtown Los Angeles.
It was the 20th anniversary of the 1992 L.A. riots sparked by “Not Guilty” verdicts in regard to four police officers accused of assault and excessive force stemming from their beating of Rodney King. It was also the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the Shalom Zone.
After PAJA middle school students attended the conference, they took a walking tour of the service providers on Skid Row.
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,” he said. “At least a blanket would help keep them warm.”
Adrian teamed with fellow sixth-grader Madison Gibson, tenth-graders Casey Gibson and Johnny Jones, and their respective mothers to come up with a plan. Executive Director Kimberly Medenorp was happy to bless their project, the first one conceived completely be the students.
The students made a presentation at St. James Methodist Church and were overwhelmed with blankets, money, food, and clothing. Their drive received another big boost when the father of a PAJA student, who worked for Farmer’s Insurance, brought in 3 large boxes of blankets that were leftover from a promotional event. “We had barely started and we already had 200 blankets!” said Casey Gibson. Over the next four months, the students implemented their plan and reached their goal of receiving 500 blankets.
In Pasadena, the PAJA students dropped off blankets in Memorial Park via the Salvation Army. Johnny Jones remembers the faces of the people who received a brand new blanket. “It made me feel good,” he said. Another drop was to the Walter Hoving Home for Women, and their final spot was to My Friend’s Place, a shelter for homeless youth in Hollywood.
After unloading blankets and jackets into MFP’s closet in the youth shelter, the PAJA students learned that My Friend’s Place serves 80 homeless youth every day (65% girls, 35% boys) and that there are 4,000 homeless teens in Los Angeles, many of them former foster children.
The weather that day had been cold and rainy; an backdrop that only emphasized the importance of their mission. 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,” according to Casey Gibson.
The students have decided to make the blanket drive an annual event.
Nora Lee, Director of Development