In a socially distanced, drive-thru event, a number of Santa Clarita Valley organizations came together to distribute “peace bags” to students, with the hopes of spreading joy, positivity and community engagement.
The idea came to the SCV after Renee Marshall, a local education consultant, heard about the bags, filled with goodies and activities to keep kids occupied and feeling good.
“Right now, we know that our kids are sadder generationally than we’ve ever seen,” Marshall said. “Even before the pandemic, we’re seeing kids hurting themselves and killing themselves at younger ages than we’ve ever seen before.”
As back-to-school season approached, Marshall enlisted the help of the Boys & Girls Club of SCV, JCI Santa Clarita, LoveSCV and the city of Santa Clarita, among other community sponsors, such as Panda Express, UCLA Health, California Credit Union, Stay Green Inc. and Castaic Dollar Tree, to make the idea come to life.
“Youth in Santa Clarita have been through a lot between going back to school and not going back to school as they wanted to, so our goal was just to make sure to just lift up our community and bring it together,” said Cass Stauffer, vice president of community engagement for JCI Santa Clarita. “We found the best way (to do so) with some of the best people from various organizations throughout town, and were able to pull it off, so it’s pretty amazing. … We’re really happy to be a part of it.”
Volunteers, including Marshall’s own family, spent hours making sure each peace bag was filled to the brim with fun, hands-on activities that foster positive community engagement and provide social-emotional support, along with other goodies, including chalk, playdough and books, able to reach each age and development level for students ages 5 to 18.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s absolutely been a labor of love, and one of the reasons is because we’ve got this team of fantastic volunteers that are all working together and everybody’s offered to help,” Marshall added.
In a culmination of that hard work, the first of three drive-thru giveaway events allowed students to visit the Boys & Girls Club of SCV’s Newhall Clubhouse on Thursday to grab a peace bag, while Panda Express donated free meals to the first 250 participants.
“We got bags for both my 7- and 15-year-old, and neither has stopped smiling yet,” Newhall resident Theresa Campbell said. “With school being online again, both were pretty bummed, so this will be a great week to distract both of them from being stuck at home during their last week of summer vacation.”
To Marshall, it’s a way to tell kids, “We’re doing this because we want you guys to be happy. We want to bring joy to you.”
“Kids need to smile right now, they need to feel good about themselves,” Marshall added. “We want them to feel happy, competent and just good going into the school year.”
Peace bag giveaways are scheduled 5-7 p.m. on Thursdays, continuing next week on Aug. 13 near the former Sears location at Westfield Valencia Town Center, located at 24137 Valencia Blvd. The final event is set for Aug. 20 at the Boys & Girls Club of SCV’s Sierra Vista Clubhouse in Canyon Country, located at 19420 Stillmore St.
School supplies and peace bags are also expected to be given to school-site resource centers in the Newhall, Sulphur Springs and William S. Hart Union school districts, along with additional distributions in Castaic.