Webster adopt fire victim buddies

Donna Maxwell and Webster Elementary School Principal Phil Cott with some of the gift bags for students at Charles Hoffman School.

The following was written by Phil Cott, principal of Webster Elementary School:

At the same time in October that Webster Elementary School was on fire, more than 200 homes were burning in the small community of Running Springs near Lake Arrowhead. The staff and parents at Webster believed that the best way to help our students recover emotionally from the fire at their school and in their community was to reach out to people who had suffered even greater damage and offer our support.

We contacted the principal of Charles Hoffman Elementary School where 14 families lost their homes and another 18 had to move away. The principal, Donna Kellogg, explained that these 14 families included five older siblings in addition to the students attending Charles Hoffman School. Together, Ms. Kellogg and I began to plan the best way for Webster School to reach out to these 19 kids who had lost their homes and possessions.

Then came the Thanksgiving weekend came along, and five Webster families lost their homes in the Corral Canyon fire. There was an immediate and dramatic response from many Webster families to rush to the assistance of our families and students. But we still felt it was important to fulfill our commitment to the kids in Running Springs. We decided that we would ask each of the Running Springs kids to ask for four gifts: an article of clothing, a game, a toy, and a book. We asked the Webster kids who lost their homes to do the same. Every classroom at Webster adopted one “buddy” from Running Springs. The kids in each class had a goal of raising $100 to buy the four gifts that their buddy had asked for. Webster’s Student Council made the commitment to raise the money to buy the gifts requested by the Webster kids. When Jakk’s Pacific Toys in Malibu heard about all of these kids, they decided to donate a bag of toys to the Webster kids and to our Running Springs buddies.

Wednesday the 19th, a small contingent from Webster loaded up two cars with 19 gift bags from Webster’s classrooms, 19 more gift bags from Jakk’s, and 19 packets of cards and letters from Webster’s students to their buddies. We met the principal and her assistant at a Holiday Inn in Ontario and presented them with their gifts. It was hard to tell who was happier about seeing the culmination of our efforts. We were a little disappointed that bad weather and icy roads kept us from meeting our buddies in person and seeing their faces, but we know that this had been a meaningful and memorable experience for our students at Webster. There is nothing more therapeutic than being able to help someone else in need. And, of course, in Malibu we know the next time it could very well be us.