It’s more than just about winning a Thanksgiving meal.
It’s about setting an example for all students how being kind, working hard in class, and respecting fellow students and teachers can be a game-changer in life.
That was the message echoed by school, police, and district attorney officials in several O.C. cities on Wednesday, Nov. 20 during the annual OC GRIP Turkey Incentive.
Officials involved with OC GRIP, a law enforcement partnership that identifies at-risk youth and aims to increase school attendance and decrease gang activity, handed out more than 1,000 Thanksgiving meals to GRIP students who earned the feasts for their families by making good on promises to excel in school.
Ralphs/Food 4 Less donated the meals for students at 67 schools that participate in GRIP, for Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership. Volunteers from Saddleback Church helped distribute the meals. And law enforcement personnel personally handed over the bags of turkeys and all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes to the students.
At Melbourne Gauer Elementary School in Anaheim, members of the Anaheim PD joined school and Anaheim Elementary School District officials in presenting meals to 19 Gauer and Brookhurst Junior High School students.
Several parents and siblings were on hand for the honor.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Anaheim Police Department, I want to first and foremost congratulate the students who have accomplished their goals,” APD Chief Jorge Cisneros said. “Those goals can’t happen without the assistance of their families. So I want to also thank you for being here side by side with your significant other who has accomplished those goals.”
Anaheim Elementary School District Superintendent Christopher Downing had the winning students stand up to bask in applause.
“Whether you’re a parent of Brookhurst or Gauer students, we hope that you all appreciate programs like this that truly make a difference in the lives of our children,” Downing said. “It’s our goal to provide the best for every student that walks through our doors. Today, we celebrate the best of our community, our school district, and of our partners.”
Dina Gamez-Lopez, principal of Gauer Elementary, introduced several school and GRIP officials who helped honor the students, including Deputy District Attorney Shannon Back and Saddleback Church volunteer Gary Bowles, among others.
“Thank you for your service,” Gamez-Lopez said, gesturing to Cisneros, APD Deputy Chief Rick Armendariz, and other APD officers in attendance. “Thank you for keeping us safe. Thank you for being a part of this amazing program for our school and our partner sister school at Brookhurst.
“Thank you Saddleback Church,” Gamez-Lopez continued. “Thank you Ralphs for donating the meals, and more importantly thank you, students, for committing to your goals and making it happen and bringing this feast to your family.
“Because it’s your hard work that’s bringing this Thanksgiving dinner home. And it’s not because you can’t get a turkey on your own. It’s not about that; it’s about the hard work and dedication to yourself and to your family.”
The honored students were:
Denise de Jesus
Brookhurst Junior High School
Freddy Perez, 11, a fifth-grader at Gauer Elementary, won a Thanksgiving dinner for taking on more responsibility at school and including himself in as many activities as possible.
Freddy promised to keep up the good work.
“I’m happy,” he said of winning a Thanksgiving feast.
Danielle Burns, a sixth-grader at Gauer, worked on her attendance and on being responsible and respectable.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said of being honored.
Danielle surveyed the goodies in her two bags.
“We’re very proud of her,” said Danielle’s mother, Marisol. “She’s made a big effort to do better.”
Hilda Vazquez, principal of Brookhurst Junior High School, offered her congratulations to the honored students.
“We hope that this meal will provide a very festive time in your family,” Vazquez said. “It’s a time for being grateful, and we’re grateful for our partners and we hope to continue to support you.
“I want to congratulate our students here for their improvement, for putting the best of themselves (forward), and for also keeping in mind your family and being able to support them.”