By Sue Pascoe
About 50 Corpus Christi School families traveled from Pacific Palisades to South Los Angeles to celebrate Christmas with St. Raphael School families at a party on Dec. 11, 2016. The “sister” school is located near the 110 Freeway and Vermont Avenue.
Some Corpus families, like the Keefes, visited their partner-family homes on other days because they were unavailable Dec. 11. Two of the four Keefe kids—twins Caitlin and Michaela—were playing for Stanford in the NCAA volleyball finals.
“We started this tradition 10 years ago when Caitlin and Michaela were in first grade at Corpus Christi,” said mom Kristin (Klein) Keefe, who, with her husband, Adam, has two other children—Kerry, a seventh grader at Corpus, and James, a sophomore at Loyola.
Keefe explained that St. Raphael asks families to fill out a form with ages, sizes and interests, to help Corpus families buy gifts.
Eighth grader Kenneth Duran said he loved doing Rubik’s Cube, so the Keefes found a Meffert’s gear ball, which is similar. He had also asked for a drone and the Keefe family found one on Amazon for $40.
“Kenneth was over the moon when he opened his present,” Kristin said.
His four-year-old brother received Duplo Legos and a new jacket. The mom received a new dress and sweater, the dad a shirt and jacket and the family a Food for Less card.
“We went to their home and they had doughnuts and hot chocolate,” Kristin said. “My children had a chance to practice their Spanish. They were in awe of how friendly and grateful the family was, and they were amazed at how Kenneth could do the Rubik’s Cube in under two minutes.”
“Seeing ‘our’ family’s faces as they received their gifts was heartwarming,” Caitlin said. “It was incredible to see how something so little could bring them so much happiness.
“This opportunity not only helped our St.Raphael family ,but it also helped my family grow closer together and appreciate everything we have, especially each other.”
The pairing of Corpus and St. Raphael started about 17 years ago, when St. Raphael principal Barbara Curtis realized the need for a “sister” school.
Said Palisadian Denise DeSantis, who now serves as St. Raphael’s director of development, “I am not totally sure how Corpus was selected, but I do know when Peter [her oldest son] was at Corpus we used to go down and tutor once a month when Corpus had a half-day the first Wednesday of the month. The Christmas exchange has developed over time.”
Her sons, Peter and Vincent, did their Loyola senior service project at St. Raphael. DeSantis said that when she started at St.Raphael two years ago, “We added lunch and arts and crafts to the Christmas party. I also reached out to former Corpus parents— Maria Rosetti, Melisa Volpicelli, Irene Gigg and Tamara Bland—who helped out with activities.” Another Corpus parent, Allison Howe, also helped.
“All of the St. Raphael students speak English, but many of the parents do not, so it was nice to have an activity that does not require speaking,” DeSantis said.
The St. Raphael families who receive gifts are chosen by the principal. “We had 56 Corpus families sign up and we tried to pair families based on similar sizes,” DeSantis explained. “We also havesome Corpus families who pair up, so they are matched with larger families. Some families requested the same family they had last year.
“Eleven additional Corpus families provided gift cards, which were also distributed,” DeSantis said, noting that Corpus likes to have families come down to the campus to provide a personal touch.
DeSantis, whose three children attended Corpus, said that the Palisades school also holds an annual fundraiser that raises between $10,000 and $15,000 a year for St. Raphael.
“Additionally, Corpus adds the downtown school’s requests to the annual Corpus book fair, which gives us about 100 new books,” said DeSantis, who noted that one Corpus parent brought a dance program to the school, and “Mary McGeagh [a Corpus alum and Marymount sophomore] started a Halloween drive, with costumes going to the school.”