"I'm sorry, but we have to cancel your date to sort food at the Food Bank," said the e-mail from volunteer coordinator Sharon Zeppegno. "The Food Bank is out of donated food until next month."
When they heard this, members of Monte Vista's Interact Club decided to take action. In less than three weeks in the spring, they collected more than 1,800 pounds of cereals, pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, and other items on the Food Bank's list of "10 Most-Needed Items." They had help from the school staff and the Rotary Club of Alamo, their sponsoring organization.
Then a group of the students went to the Concord facility to sort the food they had collected.
This is typical of the volunteer efforts this club has engaged in since the beginning of the school year, said Beth Burlingame-Randall, their advisor from Alamo Rotary. The students also held two major fundraisers for international causes:
* A lap swimming event raised more than $2,500 to help with polio eradication in Asia and Africa; and
* A pledge campaign raised more than $3,200 for prosthetic hands for children in third-world countries who have lost their hands due to birth defects, accidents and tribal warfare.
"The kids have carried out 18 community and worldwide service projects," said Burlingame-Randall. They truly live the Rotary motto of "Service Above Self," she added.
During the 2008-09 school year, the students were involved with at least one community service effort per month. They collected backpacks and school supplies for students in Contra Costa County; bought gifts for servicemen in Iraq with the Blue Star Moms; and brought in warm coats and blankets for the homeless. They also adopted 100 children from the Bay Area Crisis Nursery's Angel Tree and bought them gifts and warm clothing for the holidays; bought stuffed animals that they delivered to a senior care center in San Ramon; and served meals to the homeless at Glide Kitchen in San Francisco.
Next year's Interact president, Shiyulli Suriyakumar, said a lot of kids originally join Interact because it looks good on their college applications - but then they end up loving it.
"Our awesome advisors push us out of our comfort zone," she said about Burlingame-Randall and teacher Patti Carothers. "They are so dedicated. Ms. Randall is involved with Rotary and knows a lot, and knows we can make a big difference."
"We really help a lot of people, whether with school supplies for kids who can't afford it, or at the food pantry, or taking teddy bears to people in retirement homes," said Suriyakumar. "It helps kids in the Danville bubble get exposed to life outside."
"This is a large part of why it makes an impact on the kids and on the other people," she continued. "I think it's one of the best clubs at our school."
She said this wide range of activities means students discover at least one cause they want to embrace, plus the myriad facets of each project help them find their own niche.
"People can do things that fit their abilities," she explained. "Some are better at raising money. Others are better at interacting with others."
Suriyakumar thinks Interact is an unusual club, not just for high school but for anywhere.
"The attitude of everybody is about helping as many people as we can," she said. "I'm proud to say I'm part of it. I'm glad I'll have more chance next year, as president, to contribute."
She said her mother also works with charities so the whole idea of giving back is important to her, and she think it's smart for Rotary to take their philosophy to the teens.
"We're passionate about things," Suriyakumar said. "Maybe that's why it's done so well."
Burlingame-Randall noted that the Interact members believe they have a responsibility to their community and the world, and they know that they can make a difference.
"They are a shining example of the best of their generation," she said.