Learning a Lesson About Life

Six students from Chaminade College Prep, a private Catholic school in Chatsworth, took a day off from school Friday, learning lessons of a different sort on Skid Row.

They boarded a three-vehicle caravan carrying a ton of food, clothing and toiletries--collected in eight days by 240 students--to the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles.

The trip was the culmination of a project by six history classes to help the homeless.

Students worked during class breaks, lunch time and after school collecting and packaging the donated goods, teacher and project coordinator Libby Wright said.

In the alley behind the mission, large boxes labeled "family clothing and cookable foods" were unloaded and stacked in the mission's storage rooms.

According to Ron McCann, the mission's director of guest relations, the facility serves 3,700 people per day.

"Where do they come from?" asked 14-year-old Vivian Medina of Northridge. "I didn't know there were that many homeless people."

About 15,000 homeless people live in a three-square-mile area around the mission, McCann said. When he explained that more homeless people could be found in nearby parks, Wright and her students left the mission and headed for Pershing quare.

There they found a small park crowded with shabbily dressed people lying on the grass.

Wright began handing care packages marked "food/street" to the students.

"Hello, would you like some canned goods and a blanket?" Carrie Christopherson, 15, of Canoga Park asked a young man wearing a heavy overcoat.

Opening the bag, the man yelled, "Hey, these kids have food and clothes!"

His words prompted a rush toward the school's vehicles. Wright and her students stood in a flatbed truck handing out bags toward voices shouting "Food, please!" "Men's clothes, medium!" and "Small children!"

Within 30 minutes, only a few items of clothing were left. As a man returned to the truck, Wright apologized, saying that everything was gone.

"That's all right. I just wanted to thank the young man again who gave my son those nice clothes and books," he said, pointing to Collin Cornwell, 13, of Northridge. "God will bless you, son. You did a good job."

He had taken food and shelter for granted, Cornwell said, but after seeing the homeless firsthand, "I realized how fortunate I am. People shouldn't have to sleep in cardboard boxes or on sidewalks. And children shouldn't be hungry."

Cornwell, an eighth-grader, said his father's lectures--"Don't waste food," "Money doesn't grow on trees," and "Take better care of your things"--sounded like a broken record.

"But I understand my father now. When I go to bed tonight, I'll know that a few people will be warmer with their blankets and clothing. And I hope they will eat the food we gave them."

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