Local Marines help Deerfield students celebrate a series of community service projects

More than 30 Marines from Camp Pendleton showed up at a Deerfield Elementary School carnival on Thursday to help students celebrate the completion of a series of good deeds through the service-learning group Team Kids.

And the Marines didn’t just make an appearance.

They mingled and showed off their gear. They served up popcorn and cotton candy. They helped operate a live-action version of the Angry Birds video game. They danced and volunteered to be targets in a sponge-toss booth. They even let kids restyle their close-cropped hair with colorful spray-paint and glitter.

“Every time we’ve been here, you can just see the excitement in the kids,” Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Hanson said. “They definitely show you how much they love you and support you. It’s awesome.”

Each year, schools throughout IUSD participate in four-week challenges through Team Kids, a nonprofit organization that empowers students to tackle social issues and better their communities.

Deerfield went all out this year, taking on a number of projects. Not only did students collect supplies and write thank-you letters for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, they also raised about $2,000 for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, a charity they collectively selected.

Gunnery Sgt. Hanson said he personally attended a service-learning kickoff assembly a month ago and promised to return with more Marines if the Deerfield students met their goals.

They did that and more, and on Thursday it was time to celebrate. Spanning the newly renovated campus’ blacktop, some 600 kids made their way from booth to booth, laughing and playing with their camouflaged guests. Representatives from the Irvine Police Department and the Orange County Fire Authority also joined in the fun, as both agencies work with Team Kids.

“What you’re seeing now is the culmination of a month of hard work that these kids participated in,” said Julie Hudash, founder and CEO of Team Kids.

Interestingly enough, the Deerfield carnival was originally scheduled for Friday, Nov. 4, but a rainstorm pushed the date back to Nov. 10, which just happened to be the last school day before Veterans Day – and the 236th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.