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Annual backpack giveaway draws hundreds of families to SBC Fairgrounds in Victorville
By Rene Ray De La Cruz
Staff Writer, VV Daily Press
Sitting in the backseat of her parent’s Jeep, 7-year-old Emma Stevens watched curiously as masked volunteers handed out backpacks in SBC Fair parking lot.
The annual back-to-school event on Thursday in Victorville was hosted by the Victor Valley Rescue Mission and Impact Christian Church, in partnership with Desert Mountain Children’s Center, Rescue Mission Director Bill Edwards said.
“Because of COVID-19, this year’s giveaway is a drive-thru and contactless event,” Edwards said. “Drivers pull up and our volunteers load each vehicle with backpacks, boxes of food and a message of hope through Jesus.”
Despite most kids returning to school via a distance learning model, the majority of students will still need new school supplies and a backpack to hold them, said Rescue Mission Community Relations Coordinator Dawn Quigg.
Over 1,500 of the free backpacks were filled with an assortment of school supplies, books, masks, socks, hygiene products, toys and more.
Adults that drove through with a child also received a “Farm-to-Family” food box that included meat, dairy and produce provided by the High Desert Food Collaborative.
Stevens, the 7-year-old, said watching the volunteers deliver food and supplies to her vehicle was similar to having restaurant employees deliver food to her family’s car when they choose the curbside pickup option.
Before the event, Edwards estimated that 500 cars would make their way south on Seventh Street before turning west onto Plaza Drive before entering into the fairgrounds.
Nearly 30 minutes before the event started, a line of cars stretched down Seventh Street for nearly a mile.
Samuel N’Gotta was one of nearly 100 volunteers who directed traffic, greeted families and handed out backpacks.
“It feels good to be here and to serve the community,” said N’Gotta, a member of the Phelan Foursquare Church, Fountain of Living Waters.
Danielle Traore, wife of Foursquare pastor Daouda Traore, said helping others brings her and her team joy.
“It is better to give than to receive, and it is better to serve than to be served,” Traore said. “It is an honor to serve those here in the High Desert.”
To avoid midday temperatures of more than 100 degrees, the scheduled three-hour event began at 8 a.m. when temperatures were slightly cooler.
The Victor Valley Transit Authority provided a large passenger bus with air conditioning for volunteers, said agency spokesman Chris Ackerman.
“With the COVID-19 scare, event restrictions by the state and people telling us our event would never happen, we thought we’d have to cancel our giveaway,” Quigg said. “And if we scheduled the event, we had no direction on what to do.”
But Quigg said she and her team found that direction after watching High Desert Second Chance volunteers deliver food to hundreds of waiting vehicles at its weekly drive-thru event in Hesperia.
During that time, the fairgrounds reached out to the rescue mission and offered its parking lot for the giveaway, Edwards said.
Over the last two years, the backpack giveaway had been held at Impact Christian Church, on the former George Air Force Base property in Victorville. The fairgrounds was chosen this year due to its proximity to more neighborhoods, Quigg said.
“When we put the word out that the giveaway was on, we had a flood of organizations and volunteers willing to help us with funds, resources and time,” she said. “So with their help, we put all of this together in 45 days. It really is a team and community effort.”
Edwards said “Bombas Socks” were donated by Happy Feet Sole to Soul, and face masks came courtesy of Desert Mountain Children’s Center and the Community Health Action Network.
IEHP and the Ready 4 Reading Book Club provided books, and toys and hygiene products came courtesy of Santa Inc.
Other organizations that helped included Angel Tree, High Desert Transitional Living Connection from The Gate HD Church, the Azusa Pacific Nursing program and more.
Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, or by email at RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.