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YOU get a backpack & YOU get a backpack

LAPLACE — They may not be excited about summer ending, but hundreds of St. John the Baptist Parish school students (and their parents) were pretty excited about getting free school supplies and other goodies at Saturday’s Backpack Extravaganza sponsored by Eliza Eugene’s Blessed to Be a Blessing.

More than 800 area children went home with new backpacks filled with school supplies, free hygiene kits, fresh haircuts, temporary tattoos, painted faces and bellies full of jambalaya, Raising Cane’s and snowballs.

Their parents also could have picked up information from dozens of local agencies who provide various resources to area families.

Several local businesses and organizations also handed out free swag, including the St. John Sheriff’s Office, which offered Sheriff’s tattoos, pencils, footballs, cups and personal safety information.

6-year-old Makayla Hebert and Anthony Hebert, 8, each of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School got new backpacks and school supplies at the event.

“It exceeded even all of my expectations,” said Eugene. “Everything went very, very well. It was excellent.”

Eugene’s non-profit organization has been holding the giveaway for nearly a dozen years now, with each one growing larger than the previous one.

Last year more than 700 backpacks were distributed. This year the group gave away close to its allotment of 1,000.

“We were worried we wouldn’t have enough,” Eugene said. “But we did.”

Eugene cited the more than 200 volunteers who turned out at Saturday’s event, including members of the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, members of the Rotary Club and the University of New Orleans women’s basketball team, coached by St. John native Keeshawn Carter Davenport.

“They kept everything going smooth,” Eugene said. “Everything went so well. We had a plan and it was well-executed. That was important.”

Braylon Moore, 8, and Damon Moore, 9, of LaPlace Elementary School show off their new backpacks.

Davenport said she hopes to make the event an annual part of her team’s community service.

“Our mission is to have an impact in three places: the classroom, the community and the court,” Davenport said.

“It was an awesome opportunity for our team to make an impact in my hometown. We love to make young people smile and there were many smiles at this event. We loved it and hopefully we can make it an annual service event.”

Besides getting the area’s children ready to go back to school, the event also gave them a chance to pet turtles and snakes at a mini-petting zoo or burn off some energy in several inflatables.

The event was sponsored in part by Marathon Petroleum, the St. John United Way, St. John Parish government organizations, Valero, Entergy, Regions Bank, Louisiana Federal Credit Union, the River Region Chamber of Commerce, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Metro Service Group and Raising Cane’s.

Kayla Ross, 8; and 11-year-old Jailand Singleton, who attend LaPlace Elementary School, got new backpacks and school supplies.

“It just shows what you can do when everyone comes together,” Eugene said. “It shows unity and togetherness between public and private businesses.”