The Weedpatch community is one that Vineland School District Superintendent Cindy Castro is very familiar with as she basically grew up in the area since her father owned his business there.
Over the years, she's come to know that the people who live there — many Hispanic families and migrant workers earning below the poverty level — are always in need, but very rarely ask for help. Instead, they'd rather help others.
One day, Castro recalled, a young girl called out to her and told her she had something for her.
"She opened her backpack and brought me a bunch of grapes. I almost fell apart," Castro recalled. "Here these kids have nothing and they’re thinking about bringing me something ... They’re such givers."
Seeing the giving spirit of the community, the Vineland School District and other partners decided to give back themselves and provide backpacks and other resources to students and families Friday morning.
The district received a donation of 700 backpacks filled with school supplies, dental hygiene kits and food from United Way of Kern County, Aera Energy and the Blessing Corner. Depending on how many Vineland Elementary and Sunset Middle School students were in each car, that determined how many backpacks were passed out. All families received a food box filled with apples, onions, lettuce and other produce.
A line of 50 to 100 cars stretched along Sunset Boulevard and Weedpatch Highway before the start of the event.
"It shows me there’s a need," Castro said. "Definitely giving back to this community is my main priority. Education is really important, but the basic needs have to be met."
Although students are beginning the 2020-21 school year in a distance learning format, providing backpacks and school supplies is a way to bring back some sense of normalcy in their lives, Castro explained.
Seventh grader Fernando Cervantes said living through a pandemic and not being able to see friends or go to school has been "pretty weird" the last few months. Though he thought he would do back-to-school shopping at Walmart, like he normally does with his family, it was nice to see the community come together.
"It means a lot," he said, right before he rode off with a blue backpack.
Fifth grader Nicole Vazquez said she isn't too nervous about starting the school year online, but she was beginning to feel a little bummed about possibly missing out on getting new supplies.
"I'm most excited about a new backpack," she said Friday morning.
Even under a mask, one could tell she was smiling once she had her bright pink backpack in her arms.
"It's very satisfying seeing the little kids in the car smiling," said United Way volunteer Annaelisa Perez. "It gives them a sense of normalcy and hope that they can go back to normal soon."
Helping the Weedpatch community specifically, which has many migrant families living in the historic Sunset Labor Camp and working in fields, made the event even more special for Perez. Many Hispanic individuals in the area live in fear of being turned away or denied help, she said, and many don't even want to ask for assistance because they're "prideful."
But knowing they can drive up and receive supplies for their children and a week's worth of food, no questions asked, Perez said that "gives them a sense of relief."
Any leftover backpacks and supplies from Friday's event will be distributed to Vineland Elementary and Sunset Middle schools, as well as Sunset Labor Camp. With nearly 700 students in the district, every child will receive a new backpack, said Dolores Espinoza, the district's categorical programs secretary.