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Grass Valley's 133rd Donation Day teaches students about history, community

Local elementary school students paraded through downtown Grass Valley Friday morning — and collected cans of food for families in need — to mark the 132nd Donation Day. 

“It’s my first time (marching in the parade) and I’m very excited,” said Emmaline Harms, a fifth-grader at Mount St. Mary’s Academy, as she waited to join the parade line. 

She was holding a can of food she planned to donate. 

“Lots of people out there don’t have as much as you have, so it’s a great idea to donate to those who don’t have anything,” Harms said. 

The parade is hosted by the Grass Valley Ladies Relief Society, a nonprofit focused on improving the well-being of Nevada County residents. 

“I think we all have an obligation to the community and being a part of the community and helping,” said Debbie Luckinbill, the president of the relief society. “That’s what this organization does.” 

This year, students from Mt. St. Mary’s and Bell Hill academies, Grass Valley Charter School, Lyman Gilmore Middle School and Scotten, Deer Creek and Union Hill elementary schools marched from Grass Valley Charter School up Neal Street to Mill Street before circling back. They held their food donations as they marched and were joined in the streets by the Marine Corps League Honor Guard, the Lyman Gilmore Band and members of Nevada Union High School’s Future Farmers of America, among others. Students at Silver Springs High School also contributed canned food donations. 

Donation Day has deep roots in the community. It was first held in 1883. In a letter to the editor of The Union that year, Nevada County resident Caroline Meade Hansen suggested the event to help relieve local families, many of whom were struggling because men in their households had been disabled in mine accidents. Hansen proposed having each student bring a stick of wood and a potato to school for the ladies relief society to collect and distribute to needy locals. 

Six years later, in 1889, the first Donation Day parade was held — and the event has been an annual tradition in Grass Valley ever since. 

“It’s just a great way to start the holiday season and share with others,” said Linda Hartman, who is a second-generation member of the relief society; she joined in 1965, following in her mother’s footsteps. 

Though students have traded sticks and potatoes for cans of corn and beans, the message behind the event is the same, Hartman said — it encourages students to think about those who are less fortunate and to understand that anyone can do something small to help. 

“All kids can participate in this, it’s not a matter of making a large monetary contribution,” Hartman said. 

As the kids entered Grass Valley Charter at the end of the parade, they placed their canned goods on long tables. Volunteers from the relief society had already assembled 50 boxes of supplies, including canned food and bread, to be delivered to the town of Washington. With the help of Nevada Union’s FFA members, the rest of the food was sorted by type into boxes. For the first time this year, the relief society will donate the food to Interfaith Food Ministry to distribute. 

Nevada Union’s FFA members took time out of a busy finals week to contribute to the efforts — but the experience was well worth having to make up the study time later, said Kayla Allen, a junior at Nevada Union. 

“Part of our motto is living to serve,” Allen said. “As FFA members, we try to go out and serve our community and help out others.” 

That’s something many of the volunteers said they hoped was instilled in the students who participated in Donation Day. Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson said Donation Day isn’t just about teaching students about the town’s history, but also about helping them understand they’re part of a larger society. 

“This is all about teaching community,” Fredrickson said. 

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230