Backpack Extravaganza to reach 1,000 children

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2021

LAPLACE — Free backpacks, school supplies and hygiene kits will be given to the first 1,000 children at the 2021 Blessed to Be a Blessing Backpack Extravaganza.

The event will take place in a drive-thru format beginning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, July 17 at the St. John Community Center at 2900 Highway 51 in LaPlace. Children must be present in a vehicle with the parent or guardian in order to receive the supplies.

The Backpack Extravaganza will also feature free child safety seat inspection and installation from Louisiana State Police, in addition to a blood drive hosted by the Phi Iota Iota Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.

The Phi Iota Iota Chapter presented Blessed to Be a Blessing with a $1,500 donation for the 2021 event. Felters Veal, basileus of the chapter, said the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity has served the River Parishes community since Dec. 31, 1992.

“Our aim is to do community service and to help the youth. We used to do the backpack giveaway on our own, but we were only able to do so much with the resources we had,” Veal said. “Since we joined Blessed to Be a Blessing, we’ve been able to help a lot more people.”

Each year, in conjunction with the Backpack Extravaganza, the chapter hosts a Charles R. Drew blood drive named after one of the respected fraternity members. Other examples of community service have included highway clean-ups and volunteering at community events.

Blessed to Be a Blessing founder Eliza Eugene said title sponsors Cargill, Marathon and United Way have been instrumental to the Backpack Extravaganza’s continued success. The great need for these services in the community is evidenced by the vast amount of people who will wake up early on a weekend to wait in line for school supplies.

Mike Henschen, vice president of refining for the Louisiana Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum commented, “At Marathon Petroleum, we always seek to strengthen the St. John the Baptist Parish community by making positive, measurable impacts. The Backpack Extravaganza is a foundational community partnership that addresses the basic needs of students so that they can better focus on learning.”

Eugene aims to keep the event kid-centric, and she loves seeing the twinkle in a child’s eyes when they receive their school supplies. The children also love receiving popcorn and ice cream at the annual event.

“On this day, it’s all about the kids. When you give a child the proper tools they need for school, that can help them to better prepare themselves on a daily basis for success and keep them out of the criminal justice system,” Eugene said.

As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to put children on a path to success.

Eugene added, “This has been a very stressful time, not only for adults, but also for children. We want to always be there to encourage them and let them know that Blessed to Be a Blessing cares, and we want to do everything we can to help position them for greatness.”

Partnerships with St. John the Baptist Parish and the St. John Sheriff’s Office are instrumental in being able to accommodate 1,000 families in a matter of three hours. The Department of Health and Human Services and Louisiana State Police will help make families aware of important community resources.

Lt. Colonel Chavez Cammon said State Police always aim to make sure the public is safe.
“This event is really a good opportunity for us to show from the law enforcement side how we enjoy giving back to the community while also making sure that the safety message is a priority,” Cammon said. “We’ll have installers at the event to give some guidance on how to properly restrain a child and have them buckled in a car seat. This is a big event for us because of the giving piece, but it also speaks to the educational side.”

Cammon added that State Police will work hand-in-hand with the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office to make sure the Backpack Extravaganza runs smoothly.

Eugene started the Backpack Extravaganza because she believes that to whom much is given, much is required. God has granted her so much grace and favor, but she will never forget what it was like to grow up in a single parent home with a mother who worked every day but still struggled.

“I remember being a recipient of people in the community that were doing good deeds and helping single parents such as my mom. I have made the decision to allow myself to be a vessel that God can use in the community,” Eugene said. “I’m very thankful that an organization like Blessed to Be a Blessing which is 100% volunteer driven has been able to make an impact in such a large way in the community.”

For more information, contact Eugene at 504-451-4712.