Sunburst cadets pack meals for Orange County families

Challenge academy partners with Orange County Basket Brigade for Thanksgiving meal kits

Female ten looks in grocerty bag.

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Crystal Housman
California National Guard Public Affairs

Nov. 23, 2021

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. – They say sometimes the smallest things can have the biggest impact.

Such is the case this week in Orange County, after a helping hand from cadets at Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy will provide 1,000 families with food this Thanksgiving.

In the span of about 90 minutes, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, academy cadets packed 1,000 holiday meal kits full of canned goods and side dishes to support the Orange County Basket Brigade, which will distribute the kits with frozen turkeys to families in need during Thanksgiving week.

"It feels good giving back to the community and helping people out," said Cadet Bryanna Rocha, a squad leader with Firehawks Platoon, as she placed box after box of chicken broth into grocery bags her classmates carried through the meal kit line.

As more than 100 cadets looped through the chicken broth station, Cadet Angel Torres, a squad leader with Wolfpack Platoon, said the community service event hit home.

"Knowing that we’re helping families means a lot, because it could be our family that needs this," Torres said.

U.S. Army Spc. Timothy Gooden, a cadre member who works with Chargers Platoon, hoped his cadets took time to absorb the impact of their actions.

"A lot of them have come from places that they did pick up food like this, so they can kind of relate," Gooden said. "I hope they take away from this that doing community service and helping out your fellow man and helping out people in the neighborhoods you grew up in, there’s always a way to give back."

"They were on the other side of that," Gooden said, "and now they can realize the good that other people did and how they’re doing the same good."

Now in it's 22nd year, the Basket Brigade is a volunteer effort coordinated by The Tony Robbins Foundation to spread holiday spirit and provide Orange County families with the means to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Packaging the meal kits for the brigade is the latest in a series of community service projects completed by Class 28 since they arrived to Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, this summer.

In October, the class spent three days on Catalina Island helping the staff at Scouts BSA Camp Emerald Bay clear brush, break down tents, and prepare the camp for its winter shutdown.

Service to Community is a core component of all National Guard Youth Challenge Programs. Sunburst is one of three such programs throughout the state.


Teens fill plastic bags with food.

Cadet Israel Retana, center, from Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy’s Class 28 Chargers Platoon, holds open a grocery bag as an academy informational brochure is placed inside a Thanksgiving meal kit for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos. The meal kits will be delivered to families in the greater Orange County area ahead of Thanksgiving. Service to community is a core component of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program and packaging the meals kits is one of several community service activities Class 28 cadets have completed since arriving to Sunburst over the summer.

Cadet Israel Retana, center, from Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy’s Class 28 Chargers Platoon, holds open a grocery bag as an academy informational brochure is placed inside a Thanksgiving meal kit for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos. The meal kits will be delivered to families in the greater Orange County area ahead of Thanksgiving. Service to community is a core component of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program and packaging the meals kits is one of several community service activities Class 28 cadets have completed since arriving to Sunburst over the summer.

Teen places box in grocery bag.

Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy Class 28 Cadet Melanie Cisneros places a box of mashed potatoes into a Thanksgiving meal kit being put together for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.

Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy Class 28 Cadet Melanie Cisneros places a box of mashed potatoes into a Thanksgiving meal kit being put together for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.

Teen holds canned food.

Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy Class 28 Cadet Marc Habib, left, and Cadet Blue John, right, distribute cans of sweet potatoes to classmates who fill Thanksgiving meal kits for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, California.

Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy Class 28 Cadet Marc Habib, left, and Cadet Blue John, right, distribute cans of sweet potatoes to classmates who fill Thanksgiving meal kits for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, California.

Teen places food container in bag.

Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy Class 28 Cadet Cadet Angel Torres, a squad leader in Wolfpack Platoon, distributes chicken broth as classmates prepare Thanksgiving meal kits for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.

Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy Class 28 Cadet Cadet Angel Torres, a squad leader in Wolfpack Platoon, distributes chicken broth as classmates prepare Thanksgiving meal kits for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.

Two teens walk past food distribution table.

Cadets in Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy’s Class 28 package ingredients for 1,000 Thanksgiving meal kits for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.

Cadets in Sunburst Youth Challenge Academy’s Class 28 package ingredients for 1,000 Thanksgiving meal kits for the Orange County Basket Brigade, Nov. 19, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.