Sacks of hope for the homeless

A Grade School Brings Sacks Of Hope To The Homeless

A teacher inspires his kids to do more good than expected

Leon Lewandowski teaches at the Franklin School in Santa Barbara. “Most of our kids live at or below the poverty line,” he told Good Turns recently by email. “Most students are English language learners, and most of their parents have grade-school-equivalent education.” As part of an effort to give his kids more than just the basic educational experience, Lewandowski challenged them to come up with “a meaningful project that affected our community.”

“Early in the [2016-17] school year, the kids brainstormed, and realized that they wanted to help the many homeless community members they saw daily on the main street of the neighborhood, two blocks from the school,” Lewandowski recalls.

The kids came up with a program in which each student would distribute one of the care packages they called Sacks of Hope to a homeless person in Santa Barbara. “Everything stemmed from the students: the name, the logo, the items for each bag, and how we were to attain those items,” Lewandowski said. “My job was facilitator, and to help them make their ideas into reality.” The kids formed various committees and came up with a daunting 40 items to include in each Sack.

“Their hard exteriors melted and they beamed surprised smiles at me”

“I personally did not believe that we would be able to get all 40 items on the list,” he recalls, “but that wasn’t for me to say. This was their learning project, and even a miss was an opportunity to learn. Turns out I was the one being educated, because they got [donations of] every last item on the list.”

The kids–some 25 third- and fourth-graders–as well as some of the recipients, tell their story in this YouTube video. Lewandowski’s story of kindness dates back to Easter Sunday of 2012, when he was running an errand at a local drug store. “It was rainy, and outside were three young people. They were covered in tattoos and piercings. They looked a bit intimidating, and most customers were not making eye contact with them as they entered the store. As I shopped, I couldn’t help but wonder about these young people. What was their story? Why weren’t they with family on Easter? Were they runaways? Were they in trouble? So, when I emerged from the store, I handed each an Easter candy, telling them that the Easter Bunny couldn’t find them that morning, but had asked me to deliver these candies if I saw them.”

“Their hard exteriors melted and they beamed surprised smiles at me, thanking me and ‘God blessing’ me,” Lewandowski reports. He still didn’t know their stories, and hadn’t changed their situations, but “I left knowing I brought happiness to them for that moment. It was then that I vowed to recreate those feelings once a day for the next 30 days. And thus the April Random Acts of Kindness Challenge was born.”

The kids at Franklin School will design and execute another kindness project this year, whether Sacks of Hope or something completely original, Lewandowski says. While he may have brought momentary happiness to a few wayward teenagers, Lewandowski’s commitment to kindness should inspire his students–and anyone reading this post–to keep kindness in mind for more than just a month a year.

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