The high school junior sat down, lined up his fabric and gently pressed his toes down on the foot pedal as the sewing machine started to whirr.
“I’ve been taught to sew by hand but never by machine,” said 16-year-old Erick Alvarado. “It makes me feel good because I’m making something for someone else.”
Alvarado and dozens of other students at High Tech High in Chula Vista are making tote bags for kids they’ve never met.
“We’re making these tote bags for patients receiving mental health care at Rady Children’s,” said fellow junior Ximena Zavala.
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It’s part of the school’s Totes of Hope project. The students learn about mental health issues and how they impact children their age.
“We learned a lot about what mental health can look like in people my age, how it looks in different communities,” explained Zavala. “There could also be a lot of cultural stigmas within these communities when it comes to trying to reach out and get help for these things.”
“You really don’t know what someone’s facing. So, you should always be kind to someone, one another,” added Alvarado.
A spokesman from Rady Children’s Hospital said, "We have seen a huge increase in the number of children that have been coming to the inpatient side of the hospital. Just as an example, from September 2020 to August 2021 we had almost 3,000 children endure suicidal ideation when they came through our emergency room. This is a staggering number.”
The World Health Organization said at least 1 in 7 kids between the ages of 10 and 19 deal with a mental health disorder.
The High Tech High students will stuff their bags with several items including a hand-written note of encouragement.
“Knowing that it’s a one-to-one kind of connection, I think that’s really good,” said Zavala.
“Notes of hope,” said Alvarado.
“I’m making it with love and positivity,” he added as he pushed his almost-completed tote bag through the sewing machine.
Alvarado said he knows there are children who are in the hospital and likely won’t be home for Christmas.
The students will deliver their completed and stuffed bags to Rady Children’s Hospital the week before Christmas.