Dignity Health Mercy and Memorial Hospitals on Sunday hosted its annual Back 2 School event for the 20th year in a row — and it may have been the biggest one yet.
"We try to make it better every year," said Freddy Hernandez, the manager of Mercy and Memorial Hospitals' outreach center.
Hernandez said that last year the organization gave out 150 backpacks, but not even halfway through Sunday's event, Dignity estimates it distributed about 350 backpacks.
"We want to get as many kids feeling confident on the first day back to school," Hernandez said
In addition to the backpack drive, the event also offered free haircuts for the kids, school supplies, food baskets, and health screenings for kids and parents.
"We want to create a one-time stop for these families," Hernandez said.
This was the first year that the Back 2 School event was held at the 1627 Virginia Ave. location, because it's better suited to serve more people. Gustavo Luna, a volunteer and the director of Learning-Pro Education, which provides tutoring services to students in the Central Valley, said that Dignity had probably served double the amount of people from last year.
Luna said that he benefited from programs like these as a child, so being able to give the same opportunity to others is important.
"We won't see how the kids are performing in school, but I know from firsthand experience that they will feel more confident," Luna said.
But they couldn't do it alone. Both Luna and Hernandez said that making the Back 2 School event bigger and better each year comes from different community organizations working together.
"Community means coming together," Luna said. "It's service before self."
Mercy and Memorial Hospitals partnered with Hold 'Em Social Club for the second year in a row to reach more members of the community.
Paul Garcia, the president of Hold 'Em Social Club, said that it's much more effective than years past when the club would deliver school supplies and charity baskets door-to-door.
"I grew up literally two blocks away from here," Garcia said. "It feels good to be able to reach out to more people."
Free haircuts were also given by Vintage Cutz and All American Barbershop.
Andres "Dre" Santillan, owner of Vintage Cutz, said that he participates in outreaches like this whenever he gets the chance.
"It's good to give back and it's even better to show my kid that," Santillan said, gesturing to his son, who was helping clean up.
The Back 2 School event also allows Mercy and Memorial Hospitals to inform community members what services it has to offer year-round, like English to Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, classes and the Dinner Bell, which provides community member with hot food four days a week.
Kasey Meredith can be reached at 661-395-7382.