Rain fell, temperatures hung in the low 40s, and still a group of parents turned out Monday and Tuesday mornings at Los Cerros Middle School and Sycamore Valley Elementary to collect gifts to be delivered to more than two dozen families at Martin Luther King Elementary School in Richmond.
The effort is part of a 14-year-old program started at Greenbrook Elementary School called the Cross County Partner School Program. Formed in 1994, the program provides clothing, books and other items to partner schools in Richmond, San Pablo, Oakland, Pittsburg, Antioch and Concord.
Program chairwoman Gina Turturici said that each school in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District is paired with a partner school in the East Bay. Schools hold clothing and book drives twice per year and take the proceeds to their partners.
In a recent drive, Sycamore Valley Elementary and Los Cerros worked together to adopt 31 families at Martin Luther King Elementary. Over two days, the parents jammed a horse trailer, a panel truck and several SUVs with toys, games, bikes and other items and delivered them to their adopted families.
Beth Bemis was one of the parents involved. The mother of a kindergartner at Sycamore Valley, Bemis said her daughter's class adopted a family. "The whole idea was so the kids could understand about people in need."
Bemis said over the course of the last few weeks of getting ready for the drive her daughter became very involved in the effort. "She really got clued in because it meant so much to me. So my daughter said, 'You haven't asked me for money out of my piggy bank. I want to give you 20 moneys.' She was very serious about it, and used $20 out of her piggy bank to buy a gift card."
This is the first year that they've done the gift drive, but Turturici said it went extremely well. "People are just being so generous. When we dropped off the gifts from Los Cerros yesterday, one woman just started crying."
Bemis agreed. "It took me eight hours just to wrap all the gifts that came in. It's a great feeling, seeing how people will do this to help other people."
Turturici said that in the 14 years since it was created by Shirley Bull, the Cross County Exchange program has been responsible for the donation of 1 million books and 1 million articles of clothing to their partner schools.