For the fourth year, Laguna Blanca Middle School students joined together with giving spirits for their annual Holiday Gift Drive, for which they gathered gifts for children living in the Santa Barbara County foster care system.

This year, the Laguna students increased their reach and support by joining forces with Upper School students to collect more than 200 gifts for children in need.

On Thursday morning, 250 students gathered in the school’s Ruston Amphitheater for a special assembly led by Trish McHale, the school’s community service director, and Dana Martin, Middle and Upper School assistant, to present the gifts to representatives from the Santa Barbara Social Services Department.

These representatives sincerely thanked the students and faculty for donating all the gifts and for thinking of the children whose Christmases are not always so bright.

Laguna Blanca Lower School is also proud to have first-grade twin girls who were adopted from the foster care program. Their adopted mother, Danielle Koornwinder, who also adopted the girls’ younger brother, learned that Laguna Middle and Upper School students were involved in the Holiday Gift Drive, and she decided to bring her twin daughters to the Hope Ranch campus to pick up two wish lists so they could participate.

The two girls attended Thursday’s assembly and were warmly welcomed to the Hope Ranch campus by students and faculty with hugs and rounds of applause. Koornwinder was very pleased to see the smiling faces of her young girls, and was touched that they enjoyed the special assembly and also learned about ways to give back to the Social Services Department.

Throughout the county, the Social Services Department gathers holiday wish lists from children (infants to teens) who are living with foster families or in foster care group homes. Each participating Laguna Blanca student received a gift request from a foster youth and volunteered to gather gifts for their respective foster child. These wish lists include items such as clothes, toys and sports equipment, and vast number of teenagers (up to age 19) are hoping for something as simple as iTunes gift cards. Also included with the request are the name, age and size of each child, so the Laguna Blanca students truly feel a connection with whom they are giving gifts. 

For more information about the Laguna Blanca Holiday Gift Drive or for information on how to donate to foster youth, contact Dana Martin at 805.687.1752 x202 or

— Jennifer Guess is a publicist representing Laguna Blanca School.