‘Better than Christmas’

LIHUE — Reya Fernandez of the Child and Family Service Headstart program knows the value of the backpacks that filled the office of Novelyn Hinazumi, CFS director of Kauai programs, Tuesday morning. 

“When I was in elementary school, my mother didn’t have enough to be able to get us all of the supplies we needed,” Fernandez said. “When I went to school with whatever I had, we were penalized for not having all of the supplies.”

Sharon Lasker, backpack brigade coordinator for the Guildas, a support arm for CFS, said they collected nearly 200 backpacks based on the feedback from CFS outreach workers.

The collection started to make its way to families Tuesday.

“This is not the 250 backpacks we had targeted,” Lasker said. “But it’s a lot of backpacks and it’ll make that many students feel comfortable about returning to school with supplies and not being humiliated. It gives them an equal start.”

William Harrington, family center coordinator, said normalization is very important for young people and CFS appreciates the efforts by the Guildas as well as others who supported the backpack program.

“This is special for me,” Fernandez said. “Under Headstart, we are in a preschool environment, but we focus on the entire family, which includes siblings who are in school. We had one family where there were six children and when they found out they were getting backpacks, they were super stoked.”

The Guildas also provide a gift card which allows the student to get a new pair of shoes.

Hinazumi said CFS outreach workers also deliver supplies for students to use at home, including paper goods and toiletries.

“It’s not just about school supplies,” Hinazumi said. “We can use all types of help including monetary contributions, or a toothbrush, or even a bag of rice.”

Mele Brewer, CFS outreach worker on the Westside covering Kekaha through Koloa, said she has 26 backpacks going to families.

“This is almost better than Christmas,” Brewer said. “I had a very resistant single dad trying to cope with getting his family equipped. He was resistant against any kind of help until the backpacks showed up and the only thing he could say was ‘God bless you! God bless you! God bless everyone!’”

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