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Student Donations Add Up In Valentines Love Effort
Fourth grader Zoey Baracosa, 10, introduces her aunt, Lorrie Herrera from St. Marys Dining Room in Stockton, as she visited the classroom on Thursday to collect a variety of donations from the students in Whitney Turners class at Dent Elementary. Marg Jackson/The Times


Fourth grade students at Dent offered some ‘Expressions of Love’ to others in need for Valentine’s Day, opening up their hearts to those less fortunate.

For the students, it was a concrete way to give back and, for the recipients, a welcome gesture of love on a holiday that celebrates that emotion.

Collections in teacher Whitney Turner’s class were turned over to Jan Miller from the Center for a Non Violent Community out of Sonora and Lorrie Herrera of St. Mary’s Dining Room in Stockton.

Students, with help from friends and family, brought in canned food items and non-perishables, clothing, blankets, hygiene items and more for St. Mary’s – which services all of San Joaquin County – and, by request, brought in individually wrapped candies for the Center for a Non Violent Community. The candies, Miller said, can’t be purchased with the funding they receive but prove invaluable when working with children in crisis.

Two members of the class have ties to the organizations and it was through their suggestions that the fourth graders agreed to forego their traditional Valentine’s Day party to help others.

A.J. Cerasi is Miller’s grandson; Zoey Baracosa is Herrera’s niece.

“I feel that we did a really good job,” Zoey, 10, said when reviewing the collection of items to donate. “I think the people will really appreciate us helping them out with food and clothing and it makes me feel good that we’re helping.”

A.J., 9, was also on board with the ‘Expressions of Love’ concept, said his grandmother Jan.

“I am so proud of these kids,” said Miller. “It makes my heart big; I think I’m building a future advocate in A.J.; he knows that we help children.”

A couple of short films were shown to the class, focused on bullying and self-expression, urging classmates to get involved if others are having trouble, taking the issue to a teacher or trusted adult.

Miller said the class was selfless, on a holiday where the focus at their age is traditionally on seeing what candy and other treats you can collect for yourself.

Turner, in her first year at Dent, said she was pleased with the effort as well.

“I’m just so delighted my class was excited to take this on,” she explained. “They wanted to do this, to be giving, instead of have a party for themselves. Hopefully this is something that we will continue at Dent next year.”

With 28 kids in the class, the donations came in for a couple of weeks before being turned over to Miller and Herrera for their respective programs on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 11. The kids did get to exchange Valentine’s cards and were treated to a mini party for their generosity, parent Tracey Miller arranging to have drinks and food for them.

“This is amazing,” Herrera added when looking over the donated items. “This is going to mean a lot.”

St. Mary’s primary mission is to feed the hungry of San Joaquin County and it also hosts a medical and dental clinic, hygiene center, and helps with social security issues, with services open to residents from throughout the county.

St. Mary’s is open, serving three hot meals a day, 365 days a year and is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Every little bit helps,” Herrera said. “Absolutely.”