Halloween and its trappings -- costumes, candy, pumpkins -- signal the start of what the director of La Casa de San Gabriel Preschool describes as the "delicate holiday season."
Thanksgiving, Christmas and Halloween tend to be holidays of consumption, said Brenda Rincon, and most of the 60 children who attend La Casa preschool have very little to consume. No $38 Buzz Lightyear costumes for them on Halloween; they make theirs from paper bags.
Rincon's simple request to a parent last week typifies the need.
"I asked a mother if she could help out with the snack for our Halloween party, and she pulled me aside to tell me she couldn't because she didn't have any food at home," said Rincon, who promptly packed a bag of beans and rice for the mother. The school keeps two 20-pound bags of each next to the copy machine for such situations.
La Casa preschool is part of a larger, 55-year-old community center in San Gabriel that serves more than 6,000 clients, mainly working poor Latinos and Native Americans. The center's programs include courses for parents, health screenings and food and clothing distribution. During the week, the center's squat concrete block buildings, a few blocks from the historic San Gabriel Mission, house the bustling preschool.
About 85% of the students come from low-income families. Their parents hold minimum-wage jobs in hospitals, convalescent homes, carwashes and nearby restaurants, said Cheryl Prentice, chief executive of La Casa. Tuition is based on family size and income: Most families pay $1 a day, which includes breakfast and lunch.
More than 75 children are on the school's waiting list.
Last year, the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign gave $10,000 to the preschool to help launch a new class of 12 children. The 2-year-old campaign, part of The Times' efforts to raise money for worthy causes, is run by the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation.
The foundation matches the first $700,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar. The foundation and The Times absorb all administrative costs.
Last year, the holiday appeal and matching funds raised $653,000, which was given to 56 charities serving Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
During the next two months, teachers and children at La Casa preschool will focus on reading, coloring pumpkin pictures, making Pilgrim hats and chattering about Santa Claus. But the staff is sensitive to the poor children they serve.
"We tell the children that Santa Claus can only bring what he can afford," she said. "And that it's OK if they don't get all the things they ask for."
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