By Christina Ottersbach
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with the Hernando County School District, hosted their sixth Annual Back to School Bash on Saturday, July 23 at Crosspoint Church in Spring Hill. Between the hours of 9:00 am and 12:00 pm, cars lined Anderson Snow Road with people excitedly waiting to participate in the event.
Backpack giveaways have become an annual event in Hernando County, as it helps to provide a positive start to a child’s school year by ensuring that they have the materials they need to succeed both academically, physically, and personally. There were no requirements for families to participate – the event was open to everyone. At such a time of rising inflation, events such as this can provide a huge financial relief for all families, especially those with multiple children attending school.
The goal was to distribute 3,000 backpacks filled with supplies to students from PreKindergarten – Twelfth grade to help students get off on the right foot for the 2022-2023 school year. Thousands of students, along with their family members, waited patiently in line in the sweltering heat. Students were anxiously awaiting picking out a backpack of their choosing, while parents were eagerly awaiting to send their child back to school after a long summer break.
Many local businesses, organizations, churches, and individuals donated the backpacks along with its contents. Representatives from these organizations also worked tirelessly to pass out water to keep the crowd hydrated and cool in the hot summer sun. Volunteers of all ages seemed eager to help make this event an enjoyable one, no matter how unforgiving the weather was.
Outside the church, several bounce houses were available to entertain the young ones who were not yet drained from the heat. A DJ entertained the crowd and free food and prizes were also provided. In the center of the courtyard, a large canopy tent stood – harboring many tables loaded with bins of free gently used clothing that were organized by gender and size. At the church entrance, two of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Civilian Mounted Unit greeted families as they made their way inside, allowing students to get up close and personal with the horses.
Inside the church, tables from various sponsors and schools greeted families and students with smiles and giveaways. Superintendent John Stafford walked the campus welcoming volunteers and visitors. Those who attended the event were encouraged to stop inside the church to get free physicals and immunization shots offered by the Hernando County Health Department. A very special thank you is in order to all of the community partners, doctors, and nurses who provided their time and services to hundreds of children.
Other tables, such as Kelly Education Services, provided flyers that provided information on employment opportunities. Local school administration and teachers were also in attendance. New Eastside Elementary Principal Mike Lastra said his back-to-school efforts don’t stop here. His school will be hosting additional events such as “Popsicles with the Principal” on Saturday, July 30 and a “BBQ Bash” on Saturday, August 6. Information on these events can be found on their Facebook page. When asked about how he plans to address the teacher shortage, Mr. Lastra seems extremely confident about the upcoming school year. Since Eastside Elementary was a “D school,” they were eligible to receive funding from the Unified School Improvement Grant (UniSIG), a $44 million grant provided by the Florida Department of Education to support 149 schools in twenty-nine school districts. “Teachers who were rated either Effective or Highly Effective and worked for the entire school year are eligible for a large bonus,” Mr. Lastra said. Information on the school’s Facebook page states that Highly Effective-rated teachers will earn an additional $15,000 and Effective-rated teachers will earn an additional $7,500. Mr. Lastra proudly announced “I started this new position with thirteen teacher vacancies and now I have only two.” Eastside Elementary appears they will have the staff it needs to service these children who will have backpacks ready to start the school year.
Corporal Mike Woodward, who coordinated the event, and the Hernando County Sheriff’s Department would like to thank the following sponsors and volunteers for their help at the event: Family Chiropractic, Walmart #3526, Hernando County Antidrug Coalition, Turner Funeral Home, Merritt Funeral Home, Global Jetcare Inc., Comfort Control Specialists, ECSO, Hyslop & Pila PA, and the many others who contributed items, funds, and their services.
For more information on how to become a sponsor for upcoming backpack events in the future, please contact Cpl. M. Woodward at [email protected].