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Sheriff’s Office and Community Members Distribute Backpacks

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Backpack giveaways have become a community tradition in Hernando County, as it provides a positive start to a child’s school year and ensures they have the supplies they need to succeed. On July 24 at least three backpack giveaway events took place in the county and one health event providing free physicals.

If you had been driving on Powell Road or California Street between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon on Saturday July 24, you might have thought there had been a major traffic accident, a rock concert, or a massive giveaway happening. The latter would have been true.  

Cars started lining up in front of Nature Coast Technical High School and along the roads leading up to the school as early as 7:45 am on July 24 for the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Fifth Annual Back to School Backpack Giveaway.  By the time the event was over, 2,500 children in Kindergarten through 12th Grade had received backpacks filled with all kinds of items.

More than thirty local businesses, organizations, churches and individuals donated the backpacks and the contents. Representatives from some of these groups also showed up in the ninety degree heat to hand out backpacks and bottled water. 

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Children in the vehicles expressed their excitement at getting the backpacks in their choice of color and many were looking forward to returning to school in a few weeks. Parents expressed their gratitude and eager anticipation of their children going back to school after the summer vacation.    

For Wagner Lopez, a twelfth grader at Hernando High School this was his first time attending the event. He and his mother were there with his five siblings, among them first grader Moises and second grader Dina.

Selestene Klint, an eighth grader at Challenger K-8 was excited about going back to school. Her mother nodded in agreement and said laughing, “I am too.”

Wanda Chabot was there with her four adopted children, four-year-old Emma, five-year-old Isabella, six-year-old Gabriel and twelve-year-old Chance. She agreed that raising four children so close in age takes a lot of patience. Generous amounts of love and a sense of humor helps, also, I imagine. 

Corporal Mike Woodard, who coordinated the event, and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Department Office wish to thank the following volunteers for their help on Saturday: Employees of BioClean, Davis Family Hearing, Spring Hill MRI, T-Mobile and Walmart #3526; members of Crosspoint Church, Fraternal Order of Police #164, Hernando County Community Coalition and Hernando County Board of Realtors. Many other organizations contributed with either items or funds for the event.

Those who attended the backpack giveaway at Nature Coast were encouraged to stop by Challenger K-8, between 9am and noon for free physicals and health screenings.  Participating agencies included Premier Community Healthcare, Family Chiropractic, Davis Family Hearing, BioClean, the Health Department and Walmart.  

We had a great day providing school and sports physicals to over 500 Hernando County kids today! A very special thank you to all of our community partners, Doctors and volunteers who helped make this event possible,” posted Family Chiropractic. 

At Westside Elementary in Spring Hill, Operation Backpack handed out 1300 backpacks stuffed with supplies at their 8th annual event. A normal year for them is around a thousand backpacks, so they ramped up their efforts this year quite a bit.

The effort had a number of community partners and sponsors, including main sponsors Whittel & Melton and Robinson Chiropractic and Physical Therapy.  Phil LaRossaspearheads the event annually with the assistance of his wife Jenni and numerous volunteers.

Between 10 and 11 am there was quite a line of cars on Applegate Drive waiting their turn to pick up backpacks at the drive thru event, but the volunteers worked quickly to get the backpacks distributed.

Two of the volunteers were National Honor Society students from Nature Coast High School,

Johnel Carballo and Anthony Basile. They also helped pack those 1300 backpacks with school supplies over three days. 

All of the volunteers were definitely excited to be helping despite the hot weather.

“Love it. It’s my third year doing this one,” said volunteer Samantha Licari, chiropractic assistant at Robinson Chiropractic. It’s nice to see how excited they get.”

“It makes a lot of children happy- it’s all about the kids,” said Ruth Dionne, Suncoast Credit Union Member Advocate.

The City of Brooksville conducted its own mass backpack giveaway July 24, in an effort overseen by the Brooksville Parks and Recreation Department and the nonprofit Friends of the Children, and conducted at the city’s fire department.

“We gave away more than 400 backpacks,” said Charlene F. Kuhn, Public Information Officer of the City of Brooksville, “filled with basic school supplies.”

This drive was also open to all families in need.

“There were no requirements,” said Kuhn. “It was open to everyone.”

Backpacks and supplies were funded through a $450,000 grant secured by lead agency Hernando Community Coalition from the Department of Children and Families. Among agencies benefitting from this sweeping, all-inclusive grant  were the Brooksville Parks and Recreation Department and Friends of the Children.

“This is the perfect use of grant funds,” said Tresa J. Watson, Executive Director, Hernando Community Coalition. “To help those who need it most.”

The following weekend Brooksville Wireless Zone hosted a School Rocks Annual Backpack Giveaway Event that involved the distribution of more than 300 backpacks filled with all of the tools students need to get a successful start to the school year.

Jaime Sheridan, owner of Brooksville’s Wireless Zone, funds and–with the help of volunteers–prepares these backpacks herself.

“Not everybody is fortunate enough to have what they need for school,” said Sheridan. “We need to make sure every child gets the tools that they need to get a good start in life–to be prepared.” 

“It’s always about helping the community,” she said.

With most children returning to brick and mortar schools this month, these backpacks and supplies will help them get a good start to the new school year.

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