By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
The Dennis Labadie memorial backpack giveaway went off without a hitch last Saturday, Aug. 7, at the office of Crestline Real Estate at the intersection of Old Mill Road, Knapp’s Cutoff and Lake Drive.
The line moved quickly as the Rotary and Lions clubs had their free school supplies all lined up and they handed them out as the parents and children walked by after selecting their backpacks from the 300 available.
One girl said it was a little overwhelming, with so many styles, colors and designs to choose from, but left with one that made her happy. “I can’t believe all the choices, but I love this one,” she said.
Dominic Labadie, who himself has three children aged 3, 5 and 9, was there with his wife supporting the whole project started by his father, Dennis, in 2003, when he owned The Alpenhorn News newspaper.
“I am helping to continue the vision of my father, who believed in the education of our students as a way to improve the community,” Dominic said. “This is an opportunity for us to encourage and support their education and this all helps give them a solid start by being ready when school begins this Wednesday,” he said adding that he helped his mother in selecting and purchasing the wide variety of backpacks. “This is the third giveaway since dad died and I know he would have wanted it continued. We are doing for the community what we can.”
The only questions asked of those attending were what grade they were going into so the appropriate school materials were distributed and which school were they attending as the giveaway was designed only for those attending school on the mountain.
The first boy in line was Valley of Enchantment fifth-grader Emanuel Nolasco who was with his mother. He was very happy with his chosen backpack and, although quite overwhelmed by it all, is happy to be able to go back to VOE and see his friends again. “Thank you,” he quietly said, “God Bless,” said his mother.
Lots of unsolicited “thank yous” were heard by the club volunteers from the Rotary and Lions clubs as they offered backpack selections to the students, and then filled those backpacks with pencils, erasers, paper, notebooks, rulers and other school materials, such as crayons for the younger set and spiral notebooks for the older ones.
Some of these school items were donated by New Life Christian Fellowship that were left over from their giveaway the previous weekend.
The county’s preschool Headstart program operated at VOE Elementary School was handing out water bottles and foldable Frisbees to the kids and teaching support materials to those parents who wanted them. “There are still openings in the preschool programs for children aged 3 to 5,” said Enrollment Program Generalist Glenda Harvey.
Lion Kathleen Welch was at the clothes swap, with many new items donated by parents whose kids had outgrown them from last year and that were never worn. Jeans, shirts, shoes and jackets were sitting on tables, available for any children or parent who wanted some clothes for this school year to take home with them. “I feel confident about today for the kids,” said Welch.
Mother Alacia Arvizu, who attended with her three kids, said, “We are now ready for school. This is so wonderful for those who need it so much, especially this year.”
“This was such an opportunity, the selection was so fantastic, just like in a store,” said a teen who is going to be a junior at Rim this year. “I assumed they would be plain black or blue, but I am overjoyed. I chose one that reflects me. I was not that excited to come here, but I am so glad I did!”
Ninth grader Natalie, who is both new to the mountain and will be a new student at Rim, said, “I was terrified about going to this new school and suddenly being in high school. But this morning is encouraging, with so many smiling faces, so now I am getting a little bit excited about this new adventure.”
Sixth-grade Mary Putnam Henck Intermediate School student Lisa Batista added, “This is awesome. I love this backpack, thanks for the help.”
Maria Sanchez, who has lived on the mountain for three years, has two sons who will be attending Lake Arrowhead Elementary, Adan in first grade and Aaron in third. “They are so excited to get to go back to school and see their friends,” she said. “This will help them be ready.”
School Board member Bill Mellinger, who is also the Rotary EarlyAct club coordinator for VOE Elementary School, was encouraging the kids who had previously been involved in the club to return. The kids were really happy to see him and seemed excited about the club starting up again.
This is the club that had installed the podiums around the Lake Gregory walking trail with the students’ nature stories about the ecosystems and animals of the area a couple years ago. “This giveaway was exceptionally well organized and so many kids are saying thank you. It feels great,” Mellinger said.
Lion Tom Parker, who was working hard filling all the backpacks with stuff as the kids walked by, said, “These people are wonderful. I am really having fun doing this for the kids.”
Lions Club President Catherine Johnson added, “This is always a great day getting to see all the excited kids and helping them on their way to a good school year.” Standing next to her, Rotary Club President Brent Leistra added, “This is always a great day. I’m bummed we didn’t get to do this last year. Getting to do this now is awesome, I wish them all a great school year.” With an executive view of the event, from years of experience with this backpack giveaway, Rotarian Virgil Stowe said, “They’re all doing an excellent job.”
“This is a memorial to my late husband, Dennis, who started the giveaway in 2003. He saw a community need for the distribution of backpacks and school items to help students begin the new school year confident, prepared and ready to learn,” said Lion Rosemarie Labadie. “Over the years, he paid for and gave out thousands of backpacks.
He said it was the excited appreciation expressed by the kids that spurred him on year after year. It was motivated from the expression of so many parents, on how they were unable to afford these necessary items that directly led to school success, so Dennis stepped up and created this annual event. I am happy to be able to continue it.”