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A Family Tradition of a Different Sort

By Donna Furey, Special to the Independent

From left, Shira and Aaron Alcouloumre and their friends, Giordana, Julian and Christina Ricci. Ethan Schlatter, not pictured, also donated to the effort.

From left, Shira and Aaron Alcouloumre and their friends, Giordana, Julian and Christina Ricci. Ethan Schlatter, not pictured, also donated to the effort.

The ideal community service projects undertaken by bar and bat mitzvah candidates help transform the 13-year-olds into young adults and develop their awareness for social justice issues.

Aaron Alcouloumre and his sister Shira took the intent of their coming of age mitzvah projects to heart by repeating them each year.

Aaron and Shira, a junior and sophomore, respectively, at Laguna Beach High School, like their peers each have their own cell phones and spend free time on extra curricular activities.

But not all of their friends are high school students. Their joint b’nai mitzvah project, bringing day old bread to the day labor site in Laguna Canyon, has evolved into an ongoing relationship with the men who seek work in Laguna as well as an ongoing philanthropy project for the siblings.

Aaron and Shira first raised $3,000 to pay for installation of a water fountain at the site. Last summer, they addressed another need by offering English classes. As enrollment grew to as many as 25, rapport developed along with language skills. And each Christmas the teens personally solicit friends and family to raise funds to purchase gifts for the workers’ kids.

For Aaron, making deliveries at the workers’ homes in Santa Ana is an eye-opening best reward.

“Every year it is amazing,” he said. “In some houses our gifts were the only ones under the tree.”

One year they arrived at an address with presents in hand to be told the family they sought did not live there. The kids persisted, knocking on another door, only to be told the same thing. At a third door they were directed “around back.” The kids found the family they were looking for, sharing a garage with another family.

Over the last three years, they have learned three families commonly share a three bedroom apartment. So their gift planning evolved to include extra gifts for the other children they meet along the way.

This year, Aaron and Shira and their friends Giordana, Julian and Christina Ricci and Ethan Schlatter raised over $800 to buy Christmas gifts for 14 families of day laborers. Their budget went further than expected from an unexpected 10% off sale at Target, intended to atone for a recent credit card security breach.

The wrapped presents and groceries donated by Newport Beach’s Whole Foods, where Aaron and Shira’s mother works, were delivered on Christmas Eve to the workers homes in Santa Ana and Anaheim and dropped off at the day labor hiring site.

“I’ve met some really nice people doing this,” Aaron said.

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