School supplies intended for the students of Emmett S. Finley Elementary School during a care-package distribution organized by members of the American Legion Bradley Keffer Unit 138 auxiliary on the morning of Aug. 20. | PHOTO COURTESY KAREN GIBBS
HOLTVILLE — The first 50 students that drove through Emmett S. Finley Elementary School’s morning meal line were all happily surprised to receive a free care package on Aug. 20.
“They were very happy and thankful,” Karen Gibbs, president of the American Legion Bradley Keffer Unit 138 auxiliary, said. “We are so happy we can help them.”
Gibbs and fellow members of her local auxiliary organized the student care-package distribution in the hopes of alleviating the burden of purchasing school supplies following the start of fall online classes throughout the school district Aug. 17.
“The way the economy is right now, people can’t afford a lot of stuff,” Helen Wilson, a local auxiliary member who helped with the distribution, said. “I thought it would be slow, but it went by so quickly.”
The 50 care packages were distributed just after 7:30 a.m. and were nearly all gone in less than an hour, Wilson said. Besides showing up to help distribute bags, Wilson also has spent the last three days sewing face masks for each student receiving a care package that morning.
“They were excited when I gave them the masks,” Wilson recalled. “They said, ‘hey mom, look a mask.’”
Wilson’s masks came in a variety of patterns including leopard, zebra, hearts, and flowers. No stranger to creating pandemic protective masks, Wilson said she’s created hundreds of masks for different local agencies, including Holtville’s Turning Point Ministries, Betty Jo McNeece Receiving Home for children and for the county of Imperial.
“I have made a little over a thousand masks since March, and I did those all by hand,” Wilson said. “It’s a hobby I like.”
Gibbs explained each care package also came with an assortment of school supplies, including pencils, crayons, a dry-erase whiteboard, erasers, colored pencils, and pencil sharpeners, along with the face masks Wilson created.
“We got it together two weeks ago,” Gibbs said. “We went shopping for supplies at Staples.”
Gibbs was joined by fellow auxiliary member Hannah Nilson to help select the care-package items.
“Hannah has a daughter in the first grade so she was able to know what we should put in the bags,” Gibbs said.
One of the items Nilson made sure to include was a dry-erase board for each bag as she has come to learn how useful they can be for the elementary students as they attend online classes from home.
“The dry-erase boards are for the Zoom meetings,” Nilson said, having had to attend a few meetings with her daughter’s first-grade teacher at Finley Elementary School.
“It’s been an adjustment,” Nilson said. “There’s more burden on the parents to provide for their students’ education.”
Understanding this burden, Nilson and her fellow auxiliary members came together to help support the local students with each care package bag.
“We always find out how we can help out,” Gibbs said. “We are always helping out who needs us.”
With about 15 members locally, Holtville’s auxiliary group routinely holds events to help the community. One upcoming event will include helping a family from each of the five schools in Holtville on Thanksgiving and Christmas. After contacting each school, the group creates festive meal care packages for the families to enjoy during the holidays, Gibbs shared.
“Hopefully, we can get the veterans breakfast if everything goes back; it’s in November,” Gibbs said.
Although it’s still uncertain if Holtville’s American Legion auxiliary will be able to hold its more popular annual events, its members are nevertheless determined to continue to adapt to the ongoing pandemic as they help the community. “We have a great unit and our women all work together,” Gibbs said.