Bleary-eyed and wearing sleepy grins, dozens of local students came out to Kohl’s Department Store early Saturday morning to get a leg-up on their first week of classes thanks to the efforts of a Gilroy service organization, local retailers and law enforcement.
The Gilroy Exchange Club, together with members of California Highway Patrol, Gilroy Police Department and California Highway Patrol Volunteer Force bought new backpacks and trendy footwear at Kohl’s and Payless ShoeSource for select students in the Gilroy Unified School District as a way to give back to the community.
“As a retired school teacher I know kids can come to school with a lot of baggage,” said Leslie Griffis, member of the Gilroy Exchange Club, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. “It feels good to be able to help them start the school year off on a positive note.”
The exchange club has run the back-to-school project, which also includes a small stipend for clothes, for many years, said Griffis, adding that new this year is the participation of the CHP.
Not only were some officers present to help distribute the backpacks, she said, the agency also donated funds from their fireworks sales.
CHP officer Steve Parra brought his two daughters, Melissa and Morgan, students at South Valley Middle School to help volunteer.
Clutching hot drinks from Starbucks, the girls helped translate instructions from the Gilroy Exchange hosts from English into Spanish for a participating family.
“I like to bring them out to participate in our community,” said Parra.
Gilroy Police officer Estella Rocha and CHP officer Fernando Rosales were all smiles as students and their parents or older siblings arrived outside Kohl’s while the parking lot was still vacant—the only activity coming from inside the store were shop assistants getting ready to open the doors.
Rosales, who also helped with Spanish translation, said he thought the event, which brought law enforcement and young people together in a positive way, reminded him of when he was a kid and participated in the DARE program.
“It’s a great thing,” he said.
In addition to the approximately 30 kids served on Saturday, the Gilroy Exchange Club gave out back-to-school items to more than 50 Gilroy students the weekend before, according to Mary Donahue, who sits on the group’s board of directors. Steve Peat, owner of the McDonald’s on First Street, donated breakfasts.
“It’s a great way for people to give back to the community,” said volunteer, Erica Diaz, a student at Christopher High School. “And it shows that there are people who care out there.”