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Anthropology Instructor and Fraternity Members Donate Gifts

By Norma Palacios
On March 19, 2013

On March 12th, CSULA anthropology instructor Jessica Bodoh-Creed and members of CSULA's Phi Pi Alpha Fire Fraternity distributed donated items in South LA to Normandie Avenue Elementary School and its 1,100 students.

Bodoh-Creed said there are many reasons why she wanted to help "Blessings in a Backpack" in partnership with Normandie Avenue Elementary School Student and Outreach Coordinator Cassandra Robinson.

"I learned about Blessings in a Backpack after reading a magazine article last December," she said, "and I was looking for a charity to work with for the upcoming quarter."

She added that the story about what the organization has done for elementary schools sounded great.

After speaking with representatives from "Blessings in a Backpack," Bodoh-Creed contacted Robinson.

An estimated 498 US schools and 58,000 students are assisted, according to its website


Forty-one states, including California and three countries currently have the "Blessings in a Backpack" meal program.

It feeds impoverished students on the weekends throughout the school year.


Sponsorship for "Blessings in a Backpack" includes McMillan Publisher, Penguin Publisher, CSULA's Phi Pi Alpha Fire Fraternity and The Slamdance Film Festival.

Consequently, she discussed it with students enrolled in her Evolutionary Perspectives of Gender and Sex and Gender Roles in Cross-Cultural Perspectives classes.


Helping Students and Their Families

Students responded through individual, family, and friend donation efforts of nonperishable food items and reading material at the start of this Winter Quarter.

A total of more than 700 books were gathered.

Toys, classroom tools and basic school supplies were also collected.

A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Education estimates 16 million children lack steady food supply, 52% of 4th graders receive free or subsidized meals and 31 million of them get free or reduced cost school lunches.

Last quarter, Bodoh-Creed said students participated in CSULA's EPIC program where its goals, according to is to provide food and toys to low-income families during the holiday season.

She and 200 students managed to fill two large boxes.

As a part-time faculty member at CSULA since 2010, Bodoh-Creed said, "This is the first time I have engaged in a project of community service on my own."

Support System

Robinson said after meeting with Bodoh-Creed, it's great the elementary school students and their families are the focus.

"It's huge," Robinson said, "because her students and the fraternity members provided a service."

Normandie Avenue Elementary School has been partnered with "Blessings in a Backpack" since 2007, according to Robinson.

The elementary school is the only one within LAUSD to have a meal program, she added.

A group of 30 students express their graditude.

Despite the struggling financial situation of the families, Bodoh-Creed helped bring a smile Robinson said.

Given "Blessings in a Backpack" assists families year-round its volunteers make a difference.

"The CSULA students' help will go a long way," Robinson continued.

Bodoh-Creed agreed.

"I want my students to know being an engaged student means thinking outside your own situation," she said, "and learning about others and their lives."

"I want the message for the children to be that a whole lot of adults out there in the world are thinking about them," Bodoh-Creed continued, "and care about them and their success."

Robinson said it means more.

"Jessica's commitment to Normandie Avenue Elementary School is great."

Making a Difference

The elementary school's staff has committed themselves toward a future for its students and steers away from teaching violence, Robinson said.

If she has one thing to tell Bodoh-Creed it's, "Thank you so much."

Bodoh-Creed wants her students to think big.

"What a community does in pulling something like helping an organization," she said, "and a local elementary school together can make a real difference in someone's life."

"This is a way of creating a community on campus as they work together toward a small goal," Bodoh-Creed added, "but also becoming a larger community of LA."

She's looking toward a continued partnership with Normandie Avenue Elementary School.

Bodoh-Creed and archaeology graduate students are working on a return trip during the Spring Quarter.

"To teach grade level lessons on the graduate students work and research in Mesoamerica" Bodoh-Creed said, "and the Channel Islands for the 4th and 5th graders."

Knowing Bodoh-Creed wants to continue helping the school Robinson said, "Wonderful."

Campus Support

Normandie Avenue Elementary School is not only getting support from Bodoh-Creed but also from CSULA's Phi Pi Alpha Fire Fraternity.

Members said after finding out what "Blessings in a Backpack" tries to accomplish they too wanted to contribute.

Anthony Rosas, graduating senior and Phi Pi Alpha Fire Fraternity treasurer learned about "Blessings in a Backpack" in Bodoh-Creed's Evolutionary Perspectives in Gender and Sex class.

He expressed interest for personal reasons.

"I was on a free meal program while attending Buford Elementary School in Lennox," Rosas said, "so I can relate."

Essentially, he wanted to give back.

What Robinson does for the elementary students goes beyond recognition, he said.

"She's doing a selfless act," Rosas continued, "without looking for a pat on the back."

Rosas believes Robinson should be commended for her hard work and dedication.

A Better Tomorrow Today

Phi Pi Alpha Fire Fraternity has supported other causes. They have participated in the "Read Across America" program.

Although the program focuses on the importance of reading, Angelo Lopez, graduating senior, said, "Blessings in a Backpack" struck a chord.

After hearing Rosas discuss "Blessings in a Backpack" Lopez collected books for the elementary students by painting houses and fixing appliances in numerous LA cities.

He did so while travelling via mass transit.

It didn't stop there.

Lopez also looked on Craigslist for donated books.

His reason why, "To show we, the fraternity, care."

In other words, it showed Lopez's drive.

As a child, his family struggled to have financial means.

Lopez said they didn't know about meal or welfare programs.

"That's how it was," he said.

Now, things are better.

Looking back, Lopez has learned something.

"You have to push yourself and never give up," he continued, "because tomorrow is another day."

For those reasons, he attended the event.

If Rosas hadn't mentioned "Blessings in a Backpack" Lopez commented, "I wouldn't have known about this."

Lopez plans to continue assisting "Blessings in a Backpack."

Phi Pi Alpha Fraternity President and graduating senior Reuben Komisar said "Blessings in a Backpack" is incredible.

"We are giving elementary school students hope," Komisar said, "and leading by example."

"They will one day go to college," he continued, "and be successful."

Bodoh-Creed's intent to have a continued partnership with Normandie Avenue Elementary School has gained support from students and faculty.

Anthropology Chair Dr. René Vellanoweth said, "Jessica Bodoh-Creed has been working the last two quarters on community service projects with her classes."

"These children will also recognize that CSULA cares about their educational success," he continued, "and it may begin to get some of them thinking about higher education and our opportunities here at CSULA."

"She's provided a platform," Rosas said, "and if she continues to spotlight community service for every class it's a win-win situation."

Embracing Cultural Differences

Making a difference, have a better understanding of cultures and doing random acts of kindness are all important to Bodoh-Creed.

By sending students to diverse ethnic neighborhoods, or going to the LA Zoo during her classes, they are exposed to a larger society.

José Gomez, graduating senior and Phi Pi Alpha Fraternity member said of Bodoh-Creed's Gender Roles Cross-Cultural Perspectives class, "You don't know the names of those who live outside of the world, but you end up knowing people need help."

From looking at the world through the lens of empathy for others Bodoh-Creed emphasizes cultural differences, human ideals, and behaviors.

Virginia Hovsepian business administration major said before enrolling in Bodoh-Creed's Gender Roles in Cross-Cultural Perspectives class she was shy.

However, her outlook changed after interviewing locals in Koreatown.

"I'm more outgoing," she said, "and more open-minded."

The bottom line Bodoh-Creed said there are the goals she hopes students will continue to embrace.

"The important thing is not to judge anyone," she said, "but to find out why things are the way they are."

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