Calipatria pools “Pennies for Pasta” for Leukemia drive and excels throughout So Cal


Calipatria Bill E Young Middle School Principal Virginia Calsada with some of her 7th grade students

CALIPATRIA – Two million elementary, middle and high school students in more than 2,700 schools across the country collect spare change for Olive Garden’s Pasta For Pennies, a program benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s School & Youth campaign.

However, one small school stood out amongst the others.

Calipatria Middle School, which entails 5th through 8th grade, ran a competition against themselves on which class could collect the most money, the winner getting a pasta party in class catered by Olive Garden in El Centro.

Starting in January through May, all grades held bake sales, washed cars, and brought spare change to school.

“Pasta For Pennies last year raised a record-breaking $4.2 million solely through student contributions,” said Dwayne Howell, the Society’s CEO and president. “Each penny contributed helps advance the Society’s mission of finding cures for blood cancers and improving the quality of life for patients and their families.”

“We had such a close race, we raised over $1000 dollars,” 7th grade teacher Mr. Sariago said of his class, “our class of 28 worked very hard.”

Sariago said, “ Out of curiosity, just to survey, I asked them who ever had eaten at the Olive Garden. Very few raised their hands.”

According to Sariago, the class was very motivated, in fact the whole school, all 330 students, raised over $5000 dollars. “So that was incredible. Calipat is an incredible community anyway, but it was outstanding.”

Sariago said, “Our principal, Virginia Calsada, called Olive Garden and found out we did a fantastic job, even better than most of Southern California. So, the Olive Garden management and our principal decided to bring the students here instead of Olive Gardening catering at the school.”

And then, two classes outperformed the rest of the high performing middle school. Graciously, Olive Garden invited both classes.

So the back room was filled with well behaved 5th and 7th graders, eating, and laughing, and eating some more.

Principal Virginia Calsada said, “Our total was exactly $5005.16. Our community really came together for our kids. And once Olive Garden invited them to the restaurant instead of catering at the school, we made this an etiquette opportunity for the 5th grade and 7th grade classes.”

Adamari Mendez, 12, said, “We were taught how to eat, to keep our elbows off the table, and to put our napkin on our lap.”

The 5th grade class walked into the dining room together and saw place cards on the table. According to their teacher, Miss Viloria, they were very excited to see their names at the table as they entered.

Yasmeen Guillen, 13, was one of the many go-getters for her class. She washed cars with the rest of them, but it was her rainbow cupcakes at the bake sale that stole the show according to Mr. Sariago. “They were a big hit and sold out.”

The school is excited about next year. Excited about the competition, beating this year’s fundraising, and excited that their small town of Calipatria can make a difference on the national stage of helping to cure a terrible disease.

As Sariago said, “It’s all about showing up and doing your best. And that is what they did.”



  1. Thank you for covering this story about our students at Bill Young Middle School! I was amazed to see our outcome! The generosity of our students warmed my heart. We are also thankful for the general manager’s willingness to host us.

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