The nonprofit Starts with Arts Foundation is hosting a backpack giveaway on Saturday, Aug. 28 to benefit local school children. In the past it has partnered with local organizations and businesses to host bicycle giveaways as well. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID VARELA
EL CENTRO — Some 250 local schoolkids will be sporting new backpacks filled with essential school supplies thanks to the community’s support of the local nonprofit Starts with Arts and its annual backpack giveaway.
Since its founding in 2012, Starts with Arts has been known for its advocacy of arts education, but in recent years has organized a number of annual events aimed at helping the less fortunate in the community, as well.
This year’s backpack giveaway was made possible by an online fundraising campaign and the establishment of a community drop-off location for the requested school supplies, Starts with Arts co-founder and Executive Director David Varela.
And though the pandemic appears to have lessened the amount of funds and resources raised this year, the overall donations nonetheless reflected the Valley’s giving spirit.
“We’ve gotten a lot of community help,” Varela said. “They’ve all come together to really give back during this time.”
For this year’s effort, Varela has partnered with the Calexico Chronicle/Imperial Valley Weekly and the Holtville Tribune and the El Centro Recreation Department to assist with the distribution of the backpacks, which is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 28 and will take place in a drive-through format because of the pandemic.
As opposed to prior years’ backpack giveaways, an online registration system was set up this year to allow the parents of children to sign up in advance to ensure an equitable distribution of the backpacks, rather than on a first-come, first-served basis, Varela said.
The registration system, which was announced on Starts with Arts’ social media accounts, had also allowed local organizations that Varela has worked with in the past to direct their clientele to go online and register for a free backpack with school supplies, he said.
“Every year it’s changed a little bit,” Varela said. “It’s definitely been a learning process.”
Mexca Brew Co. in downtown El Centro had served as a drop-off location for school supplies on Aug. 21 and attracted a sizeable and generous crowd.
It also donated the entirety of the proceeds from its food sales that night toward the backpack giveaway effort, said Ernesto “Ernie” Quintero, who operates the restaurant and nanobrewery with his life and business partner, Jessica Delgado.
The pair have partnered with Varela in the past for fundraising and community events and have jumped at the opportunity to assist in any way that they can.
“That’s like the ultimate nonprofit organization for us,” Quintero said. “They’re passionate about the things we’re passionate about: kids and arts.”
Starts with Arts’ backpack giveaway typically has served as the kickoff point for its launch of art workshops and presentations in the community and in local classrooms. The backpack giveaway is also just one of the charitable events the nonprofit organizes on an annual basis, Varela said.
Last year, the backpack, turkey dinner and bicycle giveaway were alternated with the distribution of personal protective equipment instead.
“We felt a responsibility to also reach out to those families and be able to help however we could,” Varela said.
Those who are interested in helping Starts with Arts by either donating, volunteering, or sponsoring for its annual events can find out more via its website and social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook.