Students from Rising Sun Farm & Garden in Vernalis have been making trips around town dropping off Wellness boxes of farm-grown produce and canned goods to those in need. The boxes are part of the schools’ Weekend Wellness program which has been in effect for the last 7 years.
“[This is] a year-round thing that we continue to do throughout our school year and start back-up again the following school year,” said Rising Sun Teacher Raquel DonBatalla.
Donations for canned and packaged goods are collected via canned food drives that are held within the school district. In October, Rising Sun plans to set up a donation box at the PJUSD District Office for community members to contribute as well.
Collected goods are taken to Rising Sun where they are sorted, stocked and inventoried by students before being assorted and assembled for delivery.
“[Our students] put together these boxes of donated items and provide them to some of the families within our district that have been identified as needing additional assistance,” said DonBatalla. “[Additionally] we provide boxes to Naomi’s and HOST house in Patterson [bi-weekly].”
Rising Sun Farm & Garden has excelled in helping students with disabilities aged 18-22 gain vocational, independent living and social skills while simultaneously giving back to the Patterson community through programs like Weekend Wellness. In fact, fresh produce grown at Rising Sun like bell peppers, zucchini, jalapenos, serranos, wax peppers, tomatoes, butternut squash, watermelons, rosemary & sage and apricots can be found in the wellness boxes as well.
“We’re located in Vernalis on this beautiful land where students work on harvesting lavender and caring for livestock like goats, chickens and llamas. [Our students] learn to care for livestock by feeding them and plants by growing and transplanting them [to sell].”
Earlier this month, as part of Rising Sun’s community-based instruction, students were joined by new Superintendent Dr. Reyes Gauna as they made their route for Weekend Wellness and stopped for treats at the Dollar Store where they practiced social, interpersonal and money transaction skills.
“Students come with their own money and pick out items that they want to purchase,” said DonBatalla. “They follow all the rules from placing the items on the conveyor belt, to waiting their turns and getting their change from the cashier.”