School turns MLK Jr. holiday into day of service
Thousand Oaks Acorn. Dawn Megli-Thuna. January 24, 2019.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

Conejo Valley Unified students and community volunteers at Acacia Magnet School decided to answer that question by turning their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday from a “day off into a day on.”

The elementary school on Norman Avenue in Thousand Oaks hosted an MLK Day of Service Jan. 21 with the goal of feeding the area’s neediest residents. A group comprising students, teachers and parents made dozens of sack lunches to be given to Lutheran Social Services and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, two organizations that work closely with local homeless people.

By 9 a.m. Monday, adult volunteers in plastic gloves were piling turkey, lettuce and tomatoes onto sandwich bread. Some bagged cookies while others packed fresh apples and oranges into hand-decorated paper bags.

Student volunteers drew notes to include with the 120 or so sack lunches that were to be distributed to Thousand Oaks’ homeless and working poor.

“Never forget you are loved,” one note said.

“You are super,” said another.

Fifth-grader Vincent Lopez- Shidoosh was the mastermind behind the effort.

Three weeks ago, the 11-year-old suggested Acacia honor King’s memory by putting into practice the civil rights leader’s teachings about service.

Vincent’s aunt, 22-year-old Valerie Shidoosh, had told him about #HashtagLunchbag, a social media-based movement started in Los Angeles that encourages people to “feed and feel the love” by hosting events to pack and distribute sack lunches containing notes of encouragement.

“There’s homeless people out there and they need help,” Vincent said.

Acacia, which relaunched as a magnet school this year, encourages students to pursue areas of interest to them, like cooking, astronomy or, in this case, community service.

Principal Kirsten Walker said Acacia’s model is based on the principle of joyful learning, and her students are determined to take that philosophy of joy beyond the walls of the school.

“Words of encouragement, words of hope. Let’s spread that around our community,” the principal said.

Though Acacia hosted the event, it was open to the public, and students and parents from other CVUSD schools took part. Emma Sasala and Marisa Denninger, eighth-graders at Sequoia Middle School, decorated lunch bags along with Marisa’s sister, Sierra, a sixth-grader at Sequoia.

Marisa she wants to dedicate her time to making a difference for people who don’t have the same opportunities and privileges she does.

“It’s nice to do things for others,” she said.

MLK Day was celebrated across Ventura County with observances in Oxnard, Ojai, Ventura and Santa Paula. Beth Pearcey Neal, who helped organize the event at Acacia, said it was important to mark the holiday in the Conejo Valley, as well.

“We shouldn’t have to drive to Oxnard to honor Dr. King,” she said.

Janet Baird is a former Madroña kindergarten teacher who retired last year after 38 years of teaching in CVUSD. Instead of making sack lunches, the “kid wrangler” spent her morning encouraging children who were less involved or thought they had nothing to contribute.

One little boy, for example, didn’t like to draw, so she had him group and sort bags by size.

Baird, who attended Cal Lutheran while it was still California Lutheran College, said participating in small acts of service teaches children how good it feels to know they’ve played a part in accomplishing a good deed.

“That’s the first little seed these kids need to say, ‘I’m always going to do this,’” she said. “Then they start putting down roots.”

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