Doing a good turn weekly
Tobin Wu is an old hand at organizing groceries.
Every Wednesday morning, Wu and a couple of his classmates come to Grass Valley’s Interfaith Food Ministry’s food bank to help prepare bags of food for the needy.
“It depends on how many people are in their family,” the 15-year-old said, explaining how he and classmates Apaulo McDaniel, 12, and Jahsa Star, 13, sort groceries.
Wu is in his third year in the school’s service program, in which students come to town every Wednesday – girls do volunteer work on Tuesdays – for a variety of service projects.
October is Character Education Month in California, but community service is part of the weekly curriculum at Ananda’s Living Wisdom High School in North San Juan.
Teacher Michael Deranja, who founded the elementary school in 1972, considers students’ involvement in the community and exposure to older people essential to the youths’ personal growth.
“They meet people from every church in town,” Deranja said about the boys’ work alongside volunteers from the 16 churches that run the ministry.
McDaniel ordinarily volunteers to hang out and play cards with residents at Highgate Retirement Village.
“Today I have a cold, and I didn’t want to give it to anyone,” he said. Star and a classmate were scheduled to help clean up the Grass Valley cemetery in preparation for Veterans’ Day Nov. 11, but the other lad was sick, so Star went to the food ministry as well.
“We try to specialize,” Wu said about picking a community service project.
The boys’ age comes in handy for the other volunteers who support and run the food ministry.
“We’re all grandmothers here,” volunteer Nancy Hayes said of the 300 people who usually work at the ministry.
Their young eyes come in handy when volunteers sort food for “mold control.” Hayes and Wu sat down to sort out a box of packaged candied apples for mold. Wu then gives the bad ones an underhand toss into a garbage can across the room, making baskets nine times out of 10.
Now that grocery carts aren’t allowed outside in the parking lot – five were stolen in recent weeks – the boys are a big help in carrying out bags of groceries.
“They’re wonderful,” said volunteer supervisor Dee Larson. “They always come in and help carry out groceries.”
“We don’t generally have young people here helping during the year,” said Nina Zepp, a 12-year volunteer who checks in people coming for groceries.
Asked what strikes them about the people they help, Wu and Star noted the nice cars.
“It’s kind of suspicious,” Star said.
It’s volunteer work, but the payoff is immediate, the boys say. “People always say ‘thank you,’ ” 13-year-old Star noted.
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