How to Get a Free, Fully-Stocked Backpack for Back-to-School
The first time Norma Lee saw a small girl at a community Back-to-School event with a butterfly backpack in hand and a big smile on her face, she was hooked; and for the past 10 years, the Success by 6, Outreach and Promotion Coordinator with La Esperanza Clinic said seeing the joy on kids’ faces as they choose their own backpacks at the Annual National Health Centers Week Backpack and School Supply Giveaway is addicting.
Not only do the looks never get old, but the event also gets better every year, said Lee, who helps organize and promote the event annually.
“We’re always trying to do it better; we’re always trying to do it bigger, and we’re always trying to help people,” Lee said about the 10th annual event that will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Sunset Mall, 4001 Sunset Drive in San Angelo.
San Angelo area kids entering Kindergarten through 5th grade will be able to choose one backpack out of the 250 donated by participating organizations. Kids can also visit the 20 agencies to fill their new backpacks with school supplies, get important information relevant to back to school, enjoy hot dogs by Mr. Dog and Sam's Club, or sit patiently and watch as members from the San Angelo Police Department take their fingerprints for their personal safety. Backpacks and school supplies will be given away on a first-come basis.
According to the NHCW website, the event celebrates National Health Center Week, which began August 9 and will run through August 15. This year’s theme is “America’s Health Centers—Celebrating Our Legacy, Shaping Our Future,” which honors the community owned and operated Health Centers that serve over 24 million Americans and has more than 9,000 delivery sites in all 50 states for the past 50 years.
La Esperanza Clinic is one of these Health Centers, and provides medical and dental services to all people regardless of their ability to pay or lack of insurance. However, the past few years have been more challenging for the Clinic because of cuts to the program by politicians.
“In Congress and Washington, the politicians do not understand the kind of work we do, and what we accomplish,” Lee said. “We’re trying to keep people out of the emergency room, and to keep them from using that as their healthcare.”
Lee said many people in San Angelo who don’t have health insurance or money will go to the emergency room, which drives the costs up in healthcare. La Esperanza and other Health Centers across the nation try to alleviate that with the services they provide.
“I don’t think [the politicians] understood what a benefit it was to keep Community Health Clinics across the board,” Lee noted. “Recently, we’ve been advocating to stop the funding cliff because it would reduce funding nationwide by 70 percent.”
If that were to occur, the local economy would feel the effects.
“For us in San Angelo, that would mean staff reductions, layoffs and 5,000 patients we couldn’t help,” Lee explained.
Despite funding being compromised in the past, and the cuts La Esperanza has faced, the Health Center still manages to provide health care services to people who are underinsured or not insured, which gives the Clinic’s staff hope and provides them with a reason to rejoice this week.
“This is a celebration to show that we have managed to pull through,” Lee said. "Every year, we go downtown and put out a banner to celebrate the fact that we’re still here.”
The Health Center also continues to move forward.
“Over the years, we’ve had to evolve to the point where we started as a small clinic, but we’ve had to grow to provide for our patients with the services they need,” Lee said.
She also said that as long as the Health Center is around, La Esperanza will do what it can to give back to the community.
“Every time we get the opportunity to give back and celebrate that we’re still here, it’s like ‘Yay! We’ve made in another three years!’” Lee proclaimed.
As for the businesses and organizations that will participate at Saturday’s event, they also have a vested interest in reaching families and helping with back to school, Lee noted.
“The people who participate are always willing to come back—always willing to put a little bit of their budget to the side and purchase school supplies,” Lee said. “These organizations also offer important information including health, employment, library and places that are resources for family.”
Mary Landa, 2-1-1 program manager, said 2-1-1 Texas of the Concho Valley has participated in this event since it started 10 years ago and has been a sponsor since 2012.
“The event helps children to be prepared and ready for a successful start to a new year, and it brings awareness and education about our community’s resources,” Landa said.
Landa also added that the event is a way for 20 community agencies to work together and assist Concho Valley citizens at one of the most important times of the year. The agency will be on site to provide free information and referral services, and plans to give away T-shirts and School Kit Pouches filled with a few supplies.
Marcell Bosequett, community relations coordinator for Tom Green County and Stephens Central Library, said this is the third year the Library has participated in the NHCW event, and staff will give out two pencils per child at Saturday’s event.
Bosequett also said each table at the event tries to provide information relevant to the childs’/families’ education, health or welfare. For instance, the Library plans on providing information about its services, databases, test preparation, language learning and homework help.
“Most people don’t understand the breadth of library services,” Bosequett said. “For instance, we have Mango databases that will tutor people in English. This is especially important to immigrant families who are trying to help their children with homework.”
Bosequett also said the Library provides computer and Wi-Fi access, free computer classes and allows usage of its meeting rooms for those students working on school group projects. Not to mention, Reference Librarians can help those students, or parents, conducting research.
Another benefit for parents at the event will include information provided by Modesto Villegas with Job Corps in Abilene. Villegas started with Job Corps because it actually helped him get his own high school diploma and join the U.S. Navy where he served for 23 years. When he retired and saw the job opening with the agency, he jumped at the opportunity.
Because of his own personal experience, Villegas always tries to find a way to give back, and this event is one way to do so. In addition to giving out pens and pencils to the kids, Villegas hopes to get parents and their teenagers interested in education as well.
“Job Corps is an alternative for those who drop out of school, or are thinking about dropping out because they are having difficulty in traditional school,” Villegas said. “Even if young adults have a high school diploma or GED, some cannot afford to go to college. Job Corps can assist as some of our trades are taught at local colleges. Job Corps also give the hands on training that a lot of employers are looking for.”
Lee said people like Villegas, and the people at agencies like 2-1-1 Texas of the Concho Valley, the Tom Green County Library, and the other participating agencies have helped the annual event evolve to a new standard.
“We set the bar high and put the pressure high, so we can do it, and do it well,” she said.
Not only do the agencies do the event well, but they also help families with the burden of preparing more than one child for school every year.
“One thing that’s very expensive is just getting one kid ready for back to school. That cost can be anywhere from $500 on up, so this helps to offset some of the cost,” Lee said. “It doesn’t by far take care of everything, but it helps to make a fun time with the family. And kids have the opportunity to enjoy the power involved in choosing their backpacks.”
Although the agencies wish the event could include all children, Lee said she and other planners had to make a choice and decided to focus on the K-5th grade age group to be more effective in providing more children, rather than less, with school supplies.
“We decided that if we can focus on the one age group, then families can focus on the other,” she said. “That’s our goal. We want [families] to know we’re here for them, and that we understand that getting their children ready for back to school can be tough; and, we’re also here to provide these resources for them.”