Hernando Sun Writer
In recent days, many back to school giveaways have taken place throughout the county offering a wide variety of services to students embarking on a new school year, from free vision tests and physicals to free backpacks. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office ran the Back to School Extravaganza at Anderson Snow Park which drew approximately 3500 people on Aug. 3. There was also Operation Backpack at the Jerome Brown Center in Brooksville that same day, which aimed to giveaway about 500 backpacks to area children. Across town, in Spring Hill, the Towne Square Mall hosted their 6th annual Operation Backpack. Last year we were able to visit Operation Backpack at the Jerome Brown Community Center, so this year we decided to check out the Towne Square Mall event.
Operation Backpack at Towne Square Mall is a free event to Hernando and Pasco county residents. At this event, you can bring your children to receive backpacks and basic school supplies needed for the upcoming school year. It is for all elementary and middle school kids.
The event is sponsored by many businesses and is broken up into event sponsors, gold sponsors, and bronze sponsors. Without these sponsors, the event could not be held. These sponsors pay to be a part of the event and the money then goes to purchasing the school supplies. They order the supplies through Walmart. Jennifer Larossa is the Chairwoman of the event and works to make sure it all runs smoothly. Larossa said, “Each year the event grows more and more, each year we end up purchasing more supplies. We base what we purchase off of the year before.” They try to purchase at least a thousand minimum of each item but also try to exceed it more every year. Jennifer stated they purchased about $13,000 worth of supplies this year, which all went back to the kids in the community for a successful year.
Organizers began preparing for this event months in advance, through many committee meetings, meetings with the sponsors, and advertising placements.
The free school supplies included folders, crayons, notebooks, binders and of course backpacks of all colors. The event featured a bounce house, face painting, balloon animals, free hot dogs and water, the slushie truck, vouchers for school physicals and vouchers for haircuts from Bene’s Beauty Academy.
“I am so glad to be able to volunteer for something for the kids. Most of us all have kids, events like this help,” said Michele Murray, a student at Bene’s Beauty Academy.
Operation Backpack is an event to help kids succeed. They offer the basic things a child needs for school. “It’s all about the kids and seeing their faces when they are given the supplies,” Larossa said.
This event is about everyone coming together for the children.
“I am so excited for school. I am going to kindergarten, I love my backpack!” Payton Johnson exclaimed.
Richie Sanvenero is the manager at the Towne Square Mall. They have been hosting the event here for all six years. It's indoors and offers a cool environment away from the heat and rain. He also hosts many other events that involve children such as free pictures with Santa where each kid leaves with a toy.
“I love helping host this event and many others. Many people find this to be helpful. I love being able to see and help the kids get the basic things they need to succeed,” Richie said.
The event runs very smoothly in the mall. There is just one long line of kids and parents going through collecting their new supplies. You start with a backpack, then walk in the line to the tables where you pick up additional supplies to fill the backpack.
“The event was easy-going, fast, included nice people to chat with, very organized, and my kids loved it,” said Daisy Coles.
One of the sponsors at the event, local attorney Matthew Foreman, has tried to help at the event every year. This year he helped distribute crayons to the kids. Foreman was previously a member of the school board. “I love supporting a good cause, being able to give back,” Matthew said.
With summer coming to an end and school starting back up, this event was a chance to get the kids excited for the school year. “Our hearts are in it for the children, we are blessed to be able to help,” said Walter Butler owner of The Computer Butler, a popular computer shop in the mall.
Hope everyone has a great school year!