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Backpack Extravaganza back for 2019: 1,000 children will receive school supplies

LAPLACE — Families start lining up outside of the St. John Community Center as early as 5:30 a.m. each year, three hours before doors open to the annual Blessed to Be a Blessing Backpack Extravaganza.

It’s a testament not only to widespread financial need, but also to the community’s shared vision to equip children with the tools they need to be successful.

One thousand children will receive mesh school bags, 45-piece school supply sets and hygiene kits from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. July 20 at 2900 Highway 51 in LaPlace, and Blessed to Be a Blessing founder Eliza Eugene said the event is truly a team effort.

“This is the largest collaboration in this parish, and that is something that I am most proud of,” Eugene said. “This is the largest event outside of our Andouille Festival, and everything on our grounds is 100 percent free. It would not be possible if not for the entire community joining in on this vision.”

School supply kits contain paper, pencils, index cards, calculators, folders, composition notebooks and other classroom necessities. Everyday items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner are included in the hygiene kits.

“When you equip a child for school, those children are less likely to end up in our court system,” Eugene said.

Growing up in public housing with a working single mother, Eugene was the recipient of similar giveaways as a child. She was especially inspired by the efforts of Betty Clement and other St. John Parish school leaders to make sure every family had access to school supplies.

Even after Eugene was blessed with success, she never forgot how hard her mother worked to provide.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” Eugene said. “I felt obligated to reach out and help those other single parents that are in the same situation I saw my mom in. I just want to be a blessing in the community.”

The Backpack Extravaganza continues to grow year-by-year, according to Eugene. She said the family-friendly event is focused on kids and offers far more than just school supplies.

Up to 1,000 children in attendance will receive a free fresh and fit lunch from Subway, along with complimentary lemonade and sweet tea from Raising Canes.

The St. John School Board is sponsoring a snowball stand, and the District Attorney’s Office will provide popcorn.

Ice cream, face painting and entertainment from Nola Games on Wheels will also be available, in addition to a petting zoo and free pony rides. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse, Cookie Monster, Hello Kitty and other fun characters will interact with children.

Blessed to Be a Blessing founder Eliza Eugene stands with fun characters slated to appear at the July 20 event.

Families will have access to free back-to-school haircuts and health screenings, including vision tests. Louisiana Dental Center, Teche Action Clinic and St. John Health and Human Services will be on-site.

A parent or guardian must be present for children to receive services and school supplies.

According to Eugene, a donation from Walmart of LaPlace gives children higher quality mesh bags than what has been offered in past years.

Assistant manager Vanessa Adams said Walmart has donated to St. John Parish elementary and high schools and to local churches and nurseries.

“It was really, really important to us to be involved as a company,” Adams said. “We help out a lot of different organizations. We provide for the kids.”

Jeremy Seyfert, plant manager of title sponsor Cargill, said he has witnessed a need for the Backpack Extravaganza within the community.

“We at Cargill want to give the local youth the best opportunity available to be successful and flourish as they prepare to start a new school year,” Seyfert said.

St. John United Way has helped with the event for years, according to director Artis Williams. He said the outreach supports United Way’s key initiatives with school supplies and financial assistance.

“At United Way, we fight for the health, education and financial stability of all people in the community,” Williams said, adding at least 45 percent of the St. John Parish community is asset limited, income-constrained and employed.

For more information about the Backpack Extravaganza, please contact Eugene at 504-401-0832.

A similar event will be held in St. Charles Parish August 3 at R.K. Smith Middle School in Luling.

Sponsors

St. John United Way, Cargill, Marathon Petroleum Company and LaPlace Walmart are the four title sponsors for 2019.

Other sponsors include St. John the Baptist Parish government, the St. John Parish Council, the St. John District Attorney’s Office, the St. John Assessor’s Office, Rainbow Chevrolet, the Phi Iota Iota Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Metro Service Group, the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. John Parish Public Schools, the River Region Chamber of Commerce, Ory Family Dentistry, Entergy, Louisiana Dental Center, Total Choice Federal Credit Union, Greenup Industries, Regions Bank, State Farm James Wagner Jr., Louisiana Federal Credit Union, Raising Cane’s, All Star Electric Inc., Thoughts Before Actions and state representative Randall Gaines.