WBC super lightweight champion José Ramírez is very familiar with events like backpack giveaways at Huron Middle School — he often benefited from such programs as a youngster.
Ramírez, who celebrated his 26th birthday Aug. 12, recently took a day from training for his September championship title defense. He joined Fresno State president Joseph I. Castro to give away over 1,000 backpacks to elementary and middle-school students after their first day back Aug. 14.
The United Way of Fresno and Madera counties, Fresno State University and Chevron all donated the needed funds for the backpacks and other school supplies. FedEx delivered the backpacks.
Moments after signing backpacks belonging for numerous students, including Ángel Mendoza, 9, and Adriana Serrano, 11, Ramírez said the charitable event reminded him of his upbringing in nearby Avenal, a small community about 15 minutes from Huron.
“We used to be in these lines too; anything that would help me in my school, my sport. I come from a family too who worked all their lives in the fields,” said Ramírez, taking fist bumps from kids and adults alike.
“I’m like many of these families, I’m very similar.”
Ramírez’s father, Carlos Ramírez, came to the U.S. from México and settled in Avenal nearly three decades ago. José often joined his father in one of the area’s fields before landing a Starbucks barista job.
His boxing success allowed him to buy a sports car, and helped garner his father a higher paying job — still in agriculture, but not picking grapes or working as a irrigator, making sure water flows along rows of acres.
José, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, after an illustrious amateur career, became the World Boxing Council super lightweight champion this year.
“I was invited by President Castro, and I couldn’t refuse. I came from Riverside, training, to be here,” added Ramírez, a former Fresno State student.
“We believe in each of every one of the students here,” said Castro, adding he was raised in nearby in Hanford, his wife in Riverdale. “I wrote a letter that is in each of the backpacks that explains to you what’s happening at Fresno State,” he said.
Lorena Moreno picked up her nieces from school the day of the backpack giveaway.
“I know they (kid’s parents) have a hard time with clothes for the kids. This program helps a lot of the workers still working right now,” she said in Spanish. She’ll watch her sister’s two kids daily until their mother returns from her job in the fields.
According to Coalinga-Huron Superintendent of Schools Lori Villanueva, the area is somewhat isolated.
District wide, there’s 4,400 kindergarten through 12th graders. The high school is in Coalinga. The student demographic is almost 100 percent Hispanic with a few other groups. Huron’s elementary school contains about 800 students and 450 at Huron Middle School. District wide, the free lunch program is about 85 percent.
At Huron Middle School, located in Fresno County and nearly an hour southwest of Fresno, the free lunch is much closer to 100 percent.
“Huron is one of the poorest cities in the state; very much farmworking (parents), agriculture, picking, packing, production and some of the seasonal work as well,” added Villanueva.
“Whenever anyone is willing to come out here and do something for the kids, talk to them, encourage them, give them a backpack, it means something and it helps them turn their eyes outside so that they know that there is some place for them to go, and that they’re welcome to carry on with their education,” she said.
Francisco Mesa Martínez arrived to the area just under a month ago from Southern California.
Martínez, an immigrant from Nayarít, México, served as the day’s Spanish-language emcee.
“About 30-some years ago, I was in the same spot as these families. My dad is a farmer by trade. He came here as a bracero. I think through education and hard work, our students, once they have a solid academic foundation, they can do anything, they can go anywhere,” Martínez said.