Lollie Aguirre arrived to Rojas-Pierce Park on Sunday with her four grandchildren, ages ranging from 9 to 5 years old, to get her grandchildren ready for the start of the new school year.
Aguirre’s grandchildren were some of the hundreds of children who attended, with their parents, the Gutiérrez Family Annual Backpack Giveaway at the park. This year’s event was sponsored and hosted by the Mendota Youth Recreation, Westside Youth Center and the City of Mendota.
For Aguirre, purchasing backpacks and school supplies for a fourth-grader, two second-graders and one kindergartener could definitely be a challenge.
“This is my third year,” said Aguirre of attending the event which took place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and focused on school age children ages 6 to 12 years old. “We are blessed having this.”
Aguirre said having the backpack giveaway event in the community is very important for families like hers who can’t afford to buy brand new school items such as backpacks every year for each of their children.
Aguirre said in the past she would get backpacks at yard sales to save money.
Mendota Councilmember Robert Silva said the event started with Ignacio Gutiérrez who organized the event for 15 years until he got ill and retired from organizing the event.
Silva said in order to continue with Gutiérrez’ backpack giveaway tradition, the city and the two non-profit organizations step up to raise money to continue the event in the community.
“Their is a need for school supplies,” Silva said, who has helped organized the free event for about seven years.
Silva said they have enough school backpacks and supplies such as pencil, folders, binders, erasers, notebooks, etc, for 1,000 children to ensure children are not turned away.
Corina Bañuelos, with Mendota Youth Recreation, said this is the first year the organization has partnered with the city.
“We have enough for 1,000 children. We are hoping for 800,” Bañuelos said of the giveaway.
Bañuelos said it took approximately two months to organize the event that included informational booth, bouncing houses, music and entertainment.
At one of the booth, Graciela James, with the California Highway Patrol’s El Protector program, provided parents and children with important car seats education, while in another booth Sayra Silva provided information about how to enroll children ages 2-to-5 years in the Mendota Migrant Head Start program.
The event included a health component with people having the opportunity to check their blood pressure or obtain information about second hand smoking as well as rural mental health or services available for children in the Autism spectrum.
Since Mendota is a farm labor community events like the backpacks giveaway “helps families get the school year started,” said Bañuelos.
Judy Mejía, president of Westside Youth, said there is a need for the event.
“Especially because it’s a low income town,” Mejía said. “We always want to give back to the kids.”
Mejía said that if people would like to make donations for the backpack giveaway event in the future, they can contact the city or the two non-profit organizations – Westside Youth at (559) 655-4808 or Mendota Youth Recreation at (559) 655-4590 – on how to make a donation for the event.