Nothing looks as the up and coming graduating class of 2021 may have imagined.
Now with graduation just a handful of months away, Oakdale parents as well as the community, have begun pioneering their own memory making for the local high school seniors.
On Friday, Jan. 22 a second of bi-monthly drive-thru lunches was hosted in the parking lot outside the former Big K-Mart on South Maag Avenue. Between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. the OHS Class of 2021 was treated to a huge slice of Mountain Mike’s pizza, a beverage and a custom designed cookie from Jaylene’s Baking. Cost to the student? Absolutely nothing.
The events began as a result of mom and longtime Oakdale schools volunteer Ashly Ferreira, whose youngest son Brody will be graduating from OHS this May.
“All of a sudden it just hit me, these kids, they don’t know what they’re missing but the rest of the nation does,” Ferreira said. “We had a senior year.”
“When you think of high school you don’t think of those three years (before), you think of your senior year,” she added of the most memorable high school year.
The mother of two shared that she spent much of the first half of the school year hopeful that the students would be able to return for the second half of the year. Upon seeing the release of the initial proposed hybrid schedule and the lack of events such as Homecoming, Prom, Senior Ditch Day and more caused the volunteer to get creative.
“I just felt like we have to take matters into our own hands. We have to provide at least one thing that these kids are going to remember their senior year, other than COVID-19,” Ferreira shared.
It began with a Facebook page, “Class of 2021 Beginning a senior year we never imagined!”
The organizer added that, as a long time school volunteer, she knew a large number of the parents and felt she wasn’t alone in her quest to make things memorable for the graduates. In addition to the Facebook page she began a Venmo account, figuring donations would be needed to make things happen for the kids.
She noted that while the lunch events are not hosted in conjunction with Oakdale Joint Unified School District or the high school, the teachers, administration, as well as leadership class have been helpful in getting the word out to the Class of 2021.
“This isn’t a 501(c)3,” Ferreira said of initial requests for letters and inquiries on tax deductions for donations. “You just have to trust me that this is going directly to lunches. I just want to give back to the community. I want to give back to these restaurants; I want to give back to these seniors. I want to do something that’s going to benefit everybody.”
Within a week of opening the Venmo account and Facebook page she had $1500, as well as an overwhelming response from parents and community members offering to help. Those who couldn’t attend during work hours offered to donate drinks and chips.
“We have enough for the next three lunches for drinks,” she said.
“The restaurants have been so kind,” she continued. “Cocina Michoacana was our first drive thru. They were the first ones to step up and say let’s do this.”
Ferreira shared as a community member and a parent she felt it important to not just support the students but the businesses as well. Never interested in a handout or soliciting local businesses for donations, the purpose of the Venmo was to fund the lunches.
“These donations, these people are very generous and giving,” she said. “The community, parents, everybody’s just been amazing. It’s been very, very nice.”
Ferreira emphasized they have not solicited anything for free. Businesses and individuals have willingly stepped up and donated. Jaylene’s Baking donated cookies for the recent event, refusing any payment.
While the lunch events are currently planned for twice a month, the organizer feels with the outpouring of support it may quite easily become weekly for the months of April and May.
“Every week we get more donations that just come in,” she said. “It is so rewarding. It is the best feeling. It’s incredibly rewarding. I don’t even know how to put it into words.”
With so much support via volunteers, donations of goods, as well as financial, Ferreira makes it a priority to stay transparent. She posts updates regularly on the Facebook page, where she also offers gratitude for the donors.
Not turning a blind eye to the cause of lunches and shutdown of traditional senior events, Ferreira is also aware of as well as follows CDC and OSHA guidelines and safety protocol at all drop-off and drive-thru sites. The coordinator shared she works in the dental industry so is very familiar with the importance of heightened safety measures.
“All the people handling food have gloves on,” she noted. “Every volunteer has a mask. I let them know that’s really important and we have to follow the guidelines.”
At the end of it all, rules, guidelines and operations aside, for Ferreira it all comes down to the kids.
“These kids, it is so rewarding to watch them come through,” she said, beaming. “They have been so appreciative. Every single one of them has said ‘thank you so, so much for giving us something to smile about.’ I’m so glad they’re coming through. “I’m so glad they’re loving it. I’m so glad it’s working out for them.”
Equally rewarding for the organizer is the appreciation of the parents, as well as the pride taken by the community in the ongoing effort.
“What makes me most proud is that our community sees the need for it and they saw the need for it and they just stepped up,” she stated. “They wanted to help and that’s such a proud feeling. The fact that the kids are going out of their way to be a part of it, makes me super proud.”
The next lunch event will be hosted and sponsored by the Takaki family on Friday, Feb. 12. Details regarding the event will be posted to the Facebook page.
Parents or community members interested in making a financial donation may do so via their Venmo page: OHS Grads. Those interested in volunteering or making other contributions should contact Ferreira directly at (209) 743-1143.