Rather than splurge their Student Council funds on a pizza party, students at Wilshire West School in Santa Monica, a small school for emotionally troubled youths, decided to do their bit to feed the homeless this Thanksgiving.
About a dozen students drove through Santa Monica on Wednesday in the school's two vans, delivering to the homeless and needy more than 100 brightly colored Thanksgiving bags, each containing an apple, a carton of juice and a turkey sandwich.
The vans pulled into Palisades Park and immediately attracted a small group of ready takers.
"This might be the only meal that I have," said Mark Leavell, a 57-year-old drifter from Texas as he took a bite of his sandwich. "I'm in the pits. I've been sleeping right here on this bench."
As the word began to circulate, a steady stream of people showed up at the vans.
"This feels so good, I feel like I'm really helping people," said Jade Prater, 15, who approached a pair of homeless men with two sack lunches in her hand.
"It was all their idea," said Mark Mitock, the school's director. "They wanted to show that they are not just thinking about themselves, but they want to do something to help others."
The idea to organize the Thanksgiving lunch came from the school's Student Council. "They decided to use the $60 in profits they had from the student store to spend on the homeless," said Cherry Artis, a teacher and adviser. "They have become role models for the rest of the students."
Demetrius Davis, 19, student body president, said the students had the option of spending the money on themselves but decided that it would be better spent on the needy. "Last year for Christmas we went to a homeless shelter and sang Christmas carols, but this is better," Davis said. "This time we are sharing something more."
The 60 students at Wilshire West, ranging in age from 12 to 19, have been referred from other school districts because they have had problems adjusting to a regular classroom environment. At Wilshire West, they are given smaller classes, remedial help, and intense individual and group counseling.
"They've washed out of the conventional schools," Mitock said. "They are underachievers with social adjustment problems. Many have been involved with drugs, gangs, and have spent time in jail."
For many, Mitock said, this is the last opportunity for an educational system to have an impact on their lives. Said one teacher: "We have had a lot of success stories."
In addition to Wilshire West, a number of nonprofit organizations are planning Thanksgiving dinners Wednesday and Thursday. The Clare Foundation and St. Monica's Church planned to serve traditional turkey dinners Wednesday.
The Vineyard Christian Fellowship plans to feed 800 needy people at its Thanksgiving Day dinner from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at St. Augustine's Church at 1227 4th St.
The largest Thanksgiving Day dinner is being prepared by The Bible Tabernacle Church of Venice, which plans to feed more than 2,000 people in front of the Venice Pavilion between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesday.