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South Oceanside Elementary
South Oceanside Elementary fifth-grade teacher, Michael Potts, pictured in red, delivers lunch from Olive Garden to staff in the emergency department at Tri-City Medical Center on April 7. Courtesy photo
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South Oceanside fifth graders donate lunch to Tri-City nurses

OCEANSIDE — Fifth graders from South Oceanside Elementary took their generosity a step further when they donated a catered lunch from Olive Garden, their reward for raising the most money for cancer research, to hospital staff at Tri-City Medical Center.

For the past two years, South Oceanside Elementary has been raising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Called the Pasta for Pennies fundraiser, classes compete to raise the most money and earn a catered lunch from Olive Garden, the fundraiser’s sponsor.

This year, students in Michael Potts’ fifth-grade class raised the most — a whopping $800 — and earned the lunch.

“That’s fifth-graders for you,” Potts said. “Very competitive.”

So competitive, in fact, that Potts’ class this year doubled the amount of money his class raised last year.

Students participated by bringing in spare change. Potts explained that many of his students don’t have a lot of money to give away in the first place, yet they were still going through their piggy banks at home to donate all they could.

South Oceanside Elementary altogether raised $7,500 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society over the past two years.

Before the class could enjoy their lunch, however, schools closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak — and it was looking like they would stay closed for quite some time.

Potts considered the options: students could wait until next year to enjoy the lunch, but it would have been difficult to get them all back for such an occasion considering the students would have gone on to middle school for sixth grade.

Potts then asked his class during one of their Google Meet sessions if they wanted to donate their lunch to those working on the “front lines” of the pandemic: nurses.

“They immediately jumped on it,” Potts said.

On April 7, Potts picked up the food from Olive Garden and delivered it to the emergency department at Tri-City. The meal was complete with breadsticks, salad and pasta.

Heidi Benson, a nurse in the emergency department, said she was impressed by the generosity of Potts and his students. She first received an e-mail from Potts asking about the lunch donation with the subject line reading “Nurses are heroes.”

Benson said tensions have been high for staff at the hospital throughout the pandemic due to the unknown future and staff’s fear of what they could be taking home to their families.

“Having the lunch delivered got the nurses outside of their world and helped them see what other people are going through,” Benson said.

It also gave staff a chance to come together for a breather, as well as a bite.

Potts worked with Kathy Sellers, general manager at the Olive Garden in Carlsbad, to make the lunch happen. Potts commended Sellers and the restaurant for being willing to give at a time when they are experiencing a loss of business and revenue due to the crisis.

“It’s the least we could do,” Sellers said. “We treat everybody like family and (the nurses) are on the front lines, and it really wasn’t anything big compared to what’s going on.”

South Oceanside Elementary Principal David Morrow is proud of the students’ generosity, but he isn’t all that surprised by it, based on what the community there is like.

“That really fits the character of South Oceanside,” Morrow said. “It’s a very giving community.”