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McDowell School first-graders tour Laguna Food Pantry, bringing toys, books

20 First graders from private Laguna Niguel school get a close look at lesser-known Orange County lifestyles

Katie McKibben and her class of first-graders kneel in front of Laguna Food Pantry shelves they filled with books and toys for other children to enjoy. At left is volunteer and board member John Kirtz; chairman Andy Siegenfeld is at right.
Katie McKibben and her class of first-graders kneel in front of Laguna Food Pantry shelves they filled with books and toys for other children to enjoy. At left is volunteer and board member John Kirtz; chairman Andy Siegenfeld is at right.
The shelves at the Laguna Food Pantry normally hold only food items, but on a recent Friday morning, they were bursting with gently-used toys and books collected and donated by first-grade students from McDowell Elementary School. Teachers Kate McKibben and Tess Dickerson and the children's parents oversaw the collection and delivery of hundreds of items that will be stored and given at holiday time by Pantry volunteers as gifts to the children of the food pantry's shoppers. Pantry chairman Andy Siegenfeld gave a tour to the visiting Sea Lions from the small private Laguna Niguel school. He  answered questions, and thanked the children for their kindness and compassion for other kids whose parents visit the Pantry for supplemental food for their families. Fully 20 percent of the recipients of Laguna Food Pantry goods are children and babies. At least 3,000 pounds of food is given out every day to area residents struggling with food insecurity. www.lagunafoodpantry.org

After touring the Pantry, the group was invited on an impromptu tour of the neighboring Alternative Sleeping Location, or ASL, an emergency overnight shelter where chronically homeless individuals may safely sleep overnight. Volunteer Mary LaRusso gave the families an overview of the shelter, showing them the shelter's computer room, laundry facility, kitchen, and three tidy bathrooms with showers. At least 45 people use the shelter each night, LaRusso explained, a place where they may sleep safely through a joint effort by the City of Laguna Beach and Friendship Shelter, a 25-year-old nonprofit program that helps homeless people rebuild their lives. The next step is for a more permanent solution to be created in the ASL's place, where homeless people may live permanently in their own small, efficiency-style apartments and get the help they need to stabilize their lives, a model that is proving highly effective and cost-efficient. www.friendshipshelter.org

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