Sixth-grader Andrea Segundo was excited when she heard commotion at her front door. She was eagerly awaiting the arrival of visitors from Palm Lane Elementary and Anaheim PD.
The group was there to deliver a full Thanksgiving dinner to Segundo and her family.
The 11-year-old worked hard to earn the meal by arriving at school on time every day, completing all her homework, and having no disciplinary issues from Sept. 25 to Nov. 3.
Her determination earned her a Thanksgiving meal for up to 10 people and a certificate of success.
“It made me happy because I made it through,” Andrea said. “I finished my homework on time, I got to school early.”
The agencies – which include the Anaheim PD, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership (GRIP), Anaheim First Christian Church, My Safe Harbor, the Anaheim PD Chief’s Advisory Board, Wal-Mart, and Wayfinders (formerly Community Service Programs, or CSP) – delivered everything needed for a holiday meal to 90 deserving students on Nov. 14 and 15 as part of the 8th annual Project Turkey Leg.
The best part is “getting to see the sense of accomplishment of a kid who earned something for their family and, from a church perspective, getting to be a piece of the bigger picture,” said Pastor Cliff Sliger of Anaheim First Christian Church, who has participated in the dinner giveaway for the past three years.
The toughest part for Isaac Orozco, 10, was doing his homework. But his school and family cheered him on, he said.
“It was fun,” he said.
Isaac hopes to be a firefighter one day.
“I told him he has to graduate to be a firefighter,” his mother, Patricia Ybarra, said. “He’s been doing well with homework, and before, he didn’t.”
The students, all of whom are considered at risk for gang involvement, are part of the Anaheim GRIP program and are in the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade at Patrick Henry Elementary School, Edison Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary School, Palm Lane Elementary School, South Junior High School, and Orangeview Junior High School.
The students all meet with mentors or case managers at least once a week, said Zitlalic Domonic, Project Coordinator for Anaheim GRIP.
“It’s a pretty significant motivator, and the teachers love it,” said Becky Ahlberg, executive director of My Safe Harbor.
The families received turkeys, loaves of bread, and two grocery bags containing all the ingredients for a grand dinner: apples, oranges, celery, milk, onions, whipped topping, cake mix, oven bags, sugar, eggs, cornbread mix, sour cream, and much more.
The best part of the meal, according to fourth grader Johnny Do, 9, is the turkey leg. The best part of the Anaheim GRIP challenge?
“I feel amazing and awesome,” Johnny said. “I completed the tasks of being good and going to school on time and not being late and doing all my homework. My dad is proud of me.”
Even siblings got involved with the challenge, by encouraging the students to work on their assignments, and helping them get to school – even on days when the students didn’t feel like going.
“I think it’s really nice,” Fanny Munoz, 16, said of the meal that her brother, Emmanuel, 9, earned. “My mom does a lot of hard work to give us everything, so she can’t be struggling around Thanksgiving.”
Prior to joining the Anaheim GRIP challenge, Emmanuel had frequent discipline problems at Palm Lane Elementary School, said Sandra Mullen, assistant principal. Now, it’s a different story. Now, when Emmanuel comes to the office, it’s to share that he’s meeting his goals.
“It’s heartwarming,” Mullen said. “I’m so proud of him. He’s done a whole 180. He used to be always in the office, now he’s smiling every day and happy.”