BENSON — Nine-year-old Zoey Mudge was one of the 100 kids who participated in a belated Back to School Fair on Saturday, where she received a new backpack and a collection of school supplies.
“I like that they’re doing this because I’m getting a lot of cool stuff that I need for school,” said Mudge, a Pomerene Elementary School fourth grader. “I have a new backpack, pens, glue, notebooks and other school things.”
Held Saturday morning in Benson Unified School District’s multipurpose room, the fair drew children from Benson, St. David and Pomerene school districts. The event is organized by local nonprofit Hope for Kids and typically provides backpacks and supplies to 500 children prior to the start of school. This year, the fair was pushed back and rescheduled because of COVID, which caused a significant drop in participation.
Organizers plan to continue distributing the school items to those students who did not attend the fair upon request, while supplies last, said Leisa Johnson, president of Hope for Kids.
“We purchased around 400 backpacks and will be making them available to children enrolled in Benson, St. David and Pomerene school districts,” Johnson said. “Children will be able to pick backpacks and supplies up at their school, or they can contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make arrangements to deliver them until we run out.”
While Saturday marked the fifth back to school event organized by Hope for Kids, Johnson said the annual fair got its start 16 years ago. The popular event was previously organized by the San Pedro Valley Family Resource Council, which no longer exists. When the resource council was dissolved about five years ago, Hope for Kids was launched to continue the fair, which typically draws hundreds of children.
“We’re usually slammed for this event,” Benson School District Superintendent Micah Mortensen said Saturday. “This year, there were so many unknowns about when school was going to start, that a lot of families had already purchased their children’s supplies. We really appreciate Hope for Kids for organizing this event for our students every year.”
Benson High School students Sierra Garner, a senior, and Hope Antonucci, a junior, received supplies and assisted with the distribution.
“I like the way our community bands together to help students with events like this,” said Garner, who is a Benson High School student council member. “I’m glad the fair is open to students in St. David and Pomerene school districts, along with Benson.”
Antonucci, a member of the school’s Link crew, a high school transition program designed to welcome incoming freshmen, said she enjoys watching how joyful the younger students are as they go through the lines collecting their school supplies.
“Some of the little kids get so excited and are a lot of fun to watch,” she said.
Along with the annual back to school fair, Hope for Kids helps children who are in foster care and assists less fortunate children throughout Benson and surrounding communities, Johnson said.
“The fair is one of our biggest projects, but we also organize a coat drive for foster kids and we assist another nonprofit called Helping Hands with a foster family Christmas dinner every year.”
Local organizations, businesses, churches and individuals support the community outreach efforts provided by Hope for Kids, Johnson said.
“We have an amazing community of generous donors, in spite of the hardships that COVID has created for everyone,” she said. “We could not do this without the the community support we receive.”