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La Jolla students launch a Giving Tree of hope in a holiday season shadowed by conflict

At the La Jolla Country Day School, staff, students, and their families started a gift drive to support foster youth and children from low-income communities. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez tells us this is a positive in a negative of world events.

At the La Jolla Country Day School, staff, students, and their families started a gift drive on Monday to support foster youth and children from low-income communities.

Students will learn a lesson of compassion over the next couple of days on campus as gifts are donated, collected, and wrapped for delivery.

This year, the annual Giving Tree project is shadowed by war and religious conflict half a world away, but the goal is to provide hope and a peaceful holiday season to those who need it most.

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“It's important for us to acknowledge everyone’s humanity and dignity," said Angela Fukumura, the parent organizer. "It starts right here at home and goes out to the world. I hope it’s what the kids here at Country Day are gaining from their experience."

La Jolla Country Day School junior Jack Tobal, 16, volunteered to help with the annual project.

“I’m ethnically Jewish. My grandparents are Jewish. We don’t practice. We do a mix of both. We always celebrate Hanukkah, and we always celebrate Christmas," Tobal said.

He admitted his position of privilege is something he wants to use for the good of the community. "I think right now it's just a good idea to think about what you have in such a privileged life (and be grateful for that). After all, a billion people in this world go without electricity and safe drinkable water," he said.

Laura Portner is a parent who dropped off a gift, Monday, for the annual Giving Tree project, La Jolla, Calif., December 11, 2023
M.G. Perez
/
KPBS
Parent Laura Portner dropped off a gift, Monday, for the annual Giving Tree project, La Jolla, Calif., December 11, 2023

The school works with county social workers and nonprofit organizations, including A Bridge for Kids. La Jolla Country Day families and staff were provided with specific “wish lists” to fulfill the requests of children from infants to age 18.

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Country Day senior Madeline Toranto, 17, celebrates Hanukkah. She serves on the school’s community service board with her classmate Maya Krishnan, 17, who celebrates a less traditional season of holiday spirit. Both find themselves as leaders-in-training for a better future.

“Jewish youth like myself … our parents just keep passing down to us that we’re the next generation. Amid antisemitism, we are going to have to stand up for ourselves," Toranto said.

"We want to spread the importance of counting our blessings. Being grateful and spreading peace wherever we can, because we see that our world might fall apart very soon,” Krishnan said.

By Wednesday, the Giving Tree project expects to have gifts for more than 400 children, from infants to teenagers. Students from Country Day will wrap and prepare whatever is collected, as they do their part for peace this holiday season.

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