Field Report: Katrina Youth Project: Ventura’s KIRF Roots & Shoots Holiday Card Exchange

Our Kirwin Family Roots & Shoots initiated a Holiday Card Exchange in December with several hundred elementary school students affected by hurricane Katrina in Picayune, MS to show to show these kids that kids outside of the hurricane disaster area care.

After our November trip to the hurricane disaster area in Mississippi we were overwhelmed by the huge need that still existed. An estimated 70,000 residents of Mississippi alone lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina and many of these people were still living outside in a tent, FEMA trailer, or a camper parked next to where their house used to be. We thought of the upcoming Winter Break and of the many children who won’t have access to free meals during that time nor the relative security and comfort of their school. We wondered what their Christmas holiday was going to be like?

Our Roots & Shoots pen pal project gave the participating Gulf coast elementary school children the gift of knowing that other kids were thinking of them during the Winter break. Even if their plight is no longer in the news at least other kids just like them (we matched kids of the same gender and of similar ages) were interested in how they were doing and sent them a holiday card or ornament that they created themselves. An example of a holiday card made by a third grader named Kai in Ventura is shown below.

By December 16th – the last day of school before Winter Break – KIRF’s co-founder Angela Kirwin mailed the Roots & Shoots kids holiday cards to 221 kids at Nicholson Elementary in Picayune, MS. There were pen pals from classes from two elementary schools here in Ventura, CA and two other Roots & Shoots youth groups in Ventura: Ojai Earth Hawks and Patagonia’s Kids Club Roots & Shoots group. One Fifth grade class collected their old stuffed animals to ship to Nicholson Elementary for “kids who lost their toys in the hurricane”. Most of the kids and teachers seemed sincerely excited about this project. For example, some fourth graders showed me how they taped Yu-Gi-Oh cards in their letters with and all kinds of little messages and treasures like happy meal coupons to McDonalds. They truly care. The art supplies for ornaments and FedEx holiday card shipping costs were paid for by Mark and Angela Kirwin.

Letter from Pategonia kids club pen pal