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KIDS GRATEFUL FOR FAMILIES PLAY SANTA TO LESS LUCKY.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

They don't have much themselves, many of these Van Nuys school kids reaching out across Los Angeles County today to give some Christmas presents to foster-care kids in Torrance with even less.

They don't have much if you're talking about money and all the nice things it can buy you in life.

But if you're talking about things like happiness and love, well, these fifth-graders in Kristen Dunn's class at Valerio Street Elementary School in Van Nuys are rich.

They have permanent homes to come to after school every day, and they have parents there who love them. Some things foster-care kids don't have.

``I feel sad for them,'' said 10-year-old Israel Herrera, wrapping a Christmas present at school Monday for a boy he will meet for the first time today at a surprise Christmas party for foster-care kids.

``We're excited about meeting them and giving them the presents we bought for them,'' added Samantha Joseph, also 10. ``We know we're pretty lucky.''

Pretty lucky. Yes, said teacher Kristen Dunn. They're all pretty lucky, including herself.

If she hadn't noticed at the beginning of the school year that many of the kids were stopping by the neighborhood liquor store in the morning to pick up their sodas and snacks for school, her kids wouldn't be meeting these foster care kids today and learning just how lucky they are.

School principal Judy Franks listened and agreed with her young teacher. She didn't like the idea of kids stopping at a liquor store on their way to school, either.

``What if we open our own student store so the kids can buy their sodas, snacks and small school items here?'' Dunn asked.

``It would be safer, and we could use the money as a fund-raiser for some needy foundation at holiday time.''

Not only that, but a student store could also be the perfect instructional tool, tying in financial lessons with a good social cause. Go for it, Franks said.

``We opened the store right out of our classroom, which has two sliding windows,'' Dunn said Monday. ``The kids sell right out the windows to the student body at snack times.

``It turned out to be a huge success and,'' she added, ``kept the kids away from an area we didn't want them to be around.''

When it came time for the student council to decide who would be the beneficiary of more than $500 raised for holiday presents, the plan hit a snag.

There were no shortages of charities and hospitals willing to accept the presents for the kids in their care, but none would allow Dunn's kids to give them in person.

``I called all over until I found one in Torrance that welcomed us to come in person to deliver the presents,'' she said.

``I wanted my kids to experience this giving first-hand, to see for themselves that there's always somebody less fortunate than you, so be thankful.''

Alison Coyne, site administrator for Masada Homes, a private agency that contracts with Los Angeles County for foster care services, said Monday she hasn't told her kids they'll be getting some special visitors today.

``It will be a surprise for them, and we're all excited about seeing the kids meet,'' she said. ``It's going to be the kind of experience where both groups will learn a lot from each other.''

That's the idea, Kristen Dunn said Monday, watching her class wrap up the last of the 30 presents they bought Saturday on a special class shopping trip to the mall.

A trip financed with money that a sharp teacher kept out of a liquor store's till and put into the till over at Valerio Street Elementary School, where the kids are rich in things that matter.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Teacher Kristen Dunn watches Israel Herrera sell a muffin to Veronica Goodwin as Dunn's fifth-grade students at Valerio Elementary School raise money to buy gifts for kids in foster care.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 21, 1999
Words:666
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