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Holiday Challenge Accepted By RUSD Students, Staff
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Riverbank Unified School District Superintendent Christine Facella and Executive Assistant Darlene Ribeiro stand next to the toys contributed from District staff for families within the community. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) has returned to distance learning for all students at all the school sites this week. Due to the rising cases within the community, county and state the district is taking all precautions to do their part in slowing the spread. However in an effort to spread some Christmas cheer as many face difficult challenges during these times, the District office and Riverbank High School (RHS) had a friendly competition in filling the toy boxes for the Toys for Tots organization.

“We recognize that there is a big concern regarding the availability of health care options for those who get sick and have been informed by public health that the situation is not good regarding the virus and hospitalizations,” stated Superintendent Christine Facella, speaking to the challenge of returning to the distance learning model. “We continue to follow established protocols for those who are working in the district.”

Each year Facella makes it a point to donate toys to the Toys for Tots campaign and felt that this year it was even more important to do so. With a competitive character she thought it would be fun to challenge RHS Principal Greg Diaz, who is also competitive, to a toy challenge, giving students and staff some additional incentive to give.

“I thought the idea of making this year’s toy drive into a challenge got more people engaged,” said Diaz. “Even though the district office and the high school just did it for bragging rights, it still created healthy competition and will benefit our children in the Riverbank community.”

“It made it more fun and made it more exciting,” added Facella regarding the toy competition. “We sent pictures back and forth of what our box looked like on different days and how filled up it was. That was really the fun part of it. It ensured that we got the box filled. This is a very worthy organization.”

The call went out to the staff at both sites about the competition between the District office and the high school to see who could collect the most toys for Toys for Tots. For two weeks the boxes at both locations filled up with staff participation.

“It’s important every year, but even more so in 2020 with the year that we’ve had to endure in our community, country, and world. Many of our local families continue to deal with serious hardships due to this pandemic,” expressed Diaz. “As a district and school, we just hope that these toys can bring the Riverbank children some sense of normalcy this holiday season—we all need it, but our children especially.”

RHS collected a total of 58 toys with a variety for boys and girls in a wide age range and RUSD won the competition with a total of 73 individual toys. The assortment of toys included dolls, games, balls, cars, action figures, Barbie’s, and much more.

“I am extremely proud of the response that RUSD and our Bruin Family had to this cause,” added Diaz. “Like I said earlier, this has been a challenging year for us all. It’s nice to know that we could do something to bring a little joy during these difficult times. And although the district office beat us on the total count, it’s the children in the Riverbank community who really win.”

With memories from her own childhood of growing up with a single mom that got into debt to make sure they had presents under the tree, Facella understands the struggles that families within the community are going through.

“We know we have a demonstrated need in our community already prior to COVID and now COVID has exacerbated all of the challenges some families are dealing with,” noted Facella. “We have families who maybe the sole breadwinner in the family and is unable to work so there is no income. I know how challenging it is emotionally for families during the holidays. Even our families with two parents are still challenged.”

All the toys collected will stay local for the families in Riverbank. They will be distributed on Dec. 19 to over 300 families that registered.

Meanwhile, school district officials are hoping that, after the holidays, they can see their students in person once again.

“Our first goal is always educating the kids and we are doing it the best we can under these difficult circumstances,” remarked Facella. “And we hope that by having them go back to distance learning that will give us four weeks of people being at home. And if they really stay at home we will be able to come back and be in a better position in terms of the virus. I really want everyone to be safe and have a pleasant holiday and stay home if they can.”

The plan for RUSD is to return from winter break on Jan. 11 with elementary students along with small groups of at-risk students at the secondary school sites for in person instruction with the remainder still on distance learning for the time being.

RHS Diaz