Backpack giveaway helps local students start new school year

Destanny and Miguel Olivas look through one of the thousands of backpacks Friday at the “Starts with Arts” giveaway at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Pavilion in El Centro. The event was sponsored by a San Diego foundation.

EL CENTRO – Local students had an opportunity to get a head start on gathering all their supplies for the new school year Friday when the Starts with Arts Foundation of San Diego sponsored a backpack giveaway at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Sports Pavilion in El Centro.

The program offered families backpacks full of school supplies to help families with limited funds. This is the second year the foundation has worked with Imperial Valley educators to provide the backpacks for the community. Last year, Starts with Arts partnered with the Imperial County Office of Education to give out backpacks to foster youth in Imperial Valley. This year, the giveaway was open to the entire community.

Cinthia Gaona of Calipatria said the giveaway was definitely a help with both backpacks and school supplies for her children, since she is jobless this year.

“I’m thankful for what they have done,” said Gaona. “It’s great that they did this, because there are a lot of us parents who do need the help.”

James Cervantes and his aunt Victoria Storms take a look at a potential new backpack.

Co-director Anitra Parish said the Starts with Arts foundation wanted to make a difference in the Valley community by helping children ready themselves for education. Parish said she used to live in the Imperial Valley before moving to San Diego, and was in the same position many economically-challenged families currently face.

“I remember when people helped me growing up, and I wouldn’t be who I am without them,” said Parish. “We wanted to give back to our hometown and help the kids who might not be able to have something new for school.”

Close to a thousand backpacks were given out, filled with school supplies such as notebooks, pencils, folders, and markers. Outside, free Hawaiian shaved ice was handed out to the families.

“Sometimes my mom says ‘reuse the stuff from last year,’ but I like to have new stuff,” said Destanny Olivas, one of many children receiving backpacks. “This is gonna help a lot.”

Carmen Gonzalez, an Imperial Valley mother, said it definitely helps her with her four children’s school expenses. Backpacks normally cost close to or more than $20 each, and Gonzalez said she was grateful to Starts with Arts for sponsoring the giveaway.

“I can take that money and put it into school uniforms now,” said Gonzalez. “It’s amazing. I’m just so happy.”

“They are definitely helping us out here,” said Mario Plancarte from Calexico.

Stephanie Avina and Enrique Jimenez smile with their new backpacks.

The Starts with Arts Foundation is dedicated to bringing awareness of the educational advantages of having art/music programs as part of the everyday class curriculum, according to members. The foundation’s purpose is to help provide students with art supplies and teachers with the materials they need to teach art and creative problem solving in their classes.

As Parish stated, the group hopes they can encourage the children of the Imperial Valley to keep up with their education.

Parish said many of the backpacks came from donations from the San Diego area, but even more came from people who grew up in the Valley, but no longer live here, and they wanted to make a difference in their hometown community.