In one box of many, from one community recovering from tragedy to another, Santa Clarita Valley students and residents sent their love, hope and warmth approximately 2,312 miles to reach the people of Oxford, Michigan.
The local chapter of Project Linus, run by students at Academy of the Canyons, which includes the Antelope Valley and Sylmar, worked with Saugus High School to send more than 500 homemade blankets to students at Oxford High School.
In November, sophomore Ethan Crumbley opened fire on students and staff at Oxford High School. Crumbley killed four students and injured seven others, including a teacher.
According to Sharon Garver, an English teacher at AOC who serves as one of the chapter coordinators, Project Linus members wanted to donate as many blankets as they could to support the students and families affected by the school shooting in Oxford.
“When you have a bad day, you want to go home, and you know, throw on a blanket and kind of forget about the day,” Garver said. “Of all of the things, and it may seem simple, but (offering a blanket) is a big way for people to feel a tangible, comforting way.”
Garver said she felt a sense of pride seeing so many people come together for good. Project Linus could not have completed such task of donating blankets to Oxford without the Saugus community, she added.
“It’s remarkable, people are willing to give so much of themselves to help so many others,” Garver said. “It gives me a lot of joy and hope for better things to come.”
Jim Klipfel, the department co-chair of social studies at Saugus High School, found out what Project Linus wanted to do. He immediately jumped in and organized the Saugus community to help in any capacity.
In November 2019, students Gracie Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, lost their lives after a classmate opened fire on the Saugus High campus before turning the weapon on himself.
Project Linus donated hundreds of blankets to Saugus students to provide some comfort in their grief.
“First of all, the shooting at Saugus in November 2019, when we returned on December, the support from Project Linus was immeasurable,” said Klipfel, who had saved the lives of students the day of the school shooting. “The students were in such a low spot that those blankets and the love from the staff, from the community, from outreach groups like Project Linus, were critical.”
According to Garver, the Saugus community donated $3,000 to cover the $2,300 cost for shipping the blankets. The remaining $700 was donated to Project Linus, she added.
“(The blankets) they were enormously important to their healing process,” Klipfel said. “For outsiders, it’s kind of hard to understand that, but it was a gesture of love that gave kids physical and emotional security.”
Klipfel said working at Saugus High is the highlight of his professional career. The school and community are filled with generous, empathetic people.
“The fact that I could send out an email or two, and pull in $3,000 from people who were handing over $20, $50, $100 bills or writing checks,” Klipfel said. “Then moving quickly to get these blankets out to provide joy, healing, a sense of love and support for those kids in the coming days and weeks before they return to school in January, it means so much to us.”
Anna Fineberg, the first female Eagle Scout from the all-female troop 2019 in the SCV, also a student at Saugus High, played a vital part in making the blanket donation possible. On the anniversary of the school shooting in November, Fineberg made her Eagle Scout project a blanket day.
She organized volunteers to crochet blankets. She then donated them to William S. Hart Union High School District’s wellness centers through Project Linus. However, from her project, 80 of the 160 blankets would be sent to students at Oxford High.
Fineberg said she was honored to help students who experienced a similar situation as herself. Fineberg, her friends and classmates received a blanket from Project Linus, and it was a heartwarming gift.
“I expected my blankets to go to the usual Project Linus beneficiaries which are hospitals, children’s shelters and all those places in the SCV,” Fineberg said. “The comfort and security that those blankets brought back to our campus were amazing. To give that feeling to Oxford students, it’s magical.”
Fineberg, Klipfel and others packed the blankets before shipping them to Oxford. On one hand, they were excited to share love, but on the other hand, they felt sorrowful as they thought about the Saugus shooting.
“Everybody’s feeling their way,” Klipfel said. “The only option for me is better. I want this tragedy to make me and my school better, healthier, and stronger people for the future by volunteering, donating, and loving each other.”
There are plenty of times when Klipfel breaks down or wipes tears from his eyes, he confessed. He also thought it was sad and tragic that they are “veteran professionals” in dealing with a school shooting and helping another community overcome their tragedy.
“It’s a reality. We are two years into our healing,” Klipfel said. “We know what they (the people of Oxford) are going through. It’s an absolute pleasure to offer this (support and love) to others, but it’s also a part of our healing.”
Garver said she encourages SCV residents to donate to Project Linus, if possible. They need some blankets and materials to continue bringing comfort to children in need.
For information, contact scvprojectlinus.org.