DANVILLE -- It's 2:25 p.m. on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, and Los Cerros Middle School's annual assembly line of Thanksgiving goodwill is ready to explode into action.
Once someone announces, "On your marks. Get set. Go!" a cluster of eager-eyed students -- lined up at the door of one of the school's multipurpose rooms -- bursts into action.
In a frenzy of holiday largesse, they snatch up baskets swiftly and push them along benches in a long assembly line of food stations on picnic tables, gathering all the fixings essential for a Thanksgiving Day feast.
"It's a little crazy -- there are boys trying to cut the lines and running," said seventh-grader Sierra Pearson, laughing.
She, by contrast, had to work her way a bit more gingerly from station to station, especially since she had her little sister, Skylar, 4, in tow. Sierra laughed good-naturedly that some had fun making it a race -- but for her the best part was "just the mindset of it ... and knowing it's all going to go to families to make their Thanksgiving better. It makes me feel good to be helping."
This year, Los Cerros Middle School assembled 300 laundry baskets for Thanksgiving to be delivered to the area's neediest of families served by nonprofits, such as SHELTER Inc, Stand! For Families Free of Violence, Tri-Valley Haven, Shepherd's Gate, Monument Crisis Center, Loaves and Fishes and the Juvenile Hall Auxiliary.
The basket brigade is in its 19th year at Los Cerros -- "so next year, we'll make it an even bigger whoop-dee-doo," Principal Phyllis Roach jokes.
The Parent Teacher Association collected about $5,000 this year toward the effort. Students collected canned goods, and families baked hundreds of loaves of the school's signature pumpkin bread, which is placed in each basket. The school's art classes also drew their own Thanksgiving cards by hand to put in each basket.
Sierra and Skyler's mother, Judy Pearson, stood back and snapped a few photos and even a short video with her smartphone of her daughters working together to assemble their baskets.
"I want this to be a part of their upbringing," she said. "Our kids have so much, and they are so well-taken care of, so anything they can do to step outside of themselves at this age -- that is a good thing."
Roberta Motter, a co-organizer of the effort this year along with Laura Valvassori and Sharon Ressa, said that the annual event is a reminder of their blessings as a community and the importance of sharing that with others.
"We are so blessed in this community," she said. "And this teaches our students a good message that they are really very privileged to be where they are.
Yet it's probably a little known fact that every year the basket brigade sets aside a number of baskets for those within their own town, whose names the brigade keeps confidential.
"A lot of people think it's just the people in Richmond that need it, but no, there are people in Danville that need it too, especially now the pressures of recession have come down," said Jodi McFarland, the school's office manager.
To donate to the Los Cerros Basket Brigade fund for its 20th anniversary, checks can be written out to the Los Cerros PTA and sent to Jodi McFarland, Los Cerros Middle School, 968 Blemmer Road, Danville, 94526.
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.