By Debbie Carson, Online Editor
FELLSMERE — Children from all over Indian River County came out to Operation Hope in Fellsmere Saturday morning for fun, food and free backpacks crammed with school supplies.
“This is awesome,” said Jesse Zermeno, Operation Hope’s president and CEO, of the turnout, community support and beautiful weather.
As of Thursday evening, Zermeno worried that there would not be enough backpacks to meet the demand. But volunteers worked late F-iday evening, stuffing supplies such as folders and paper and pencils into backpacks – filling 701.
And though the number of donations were down this year over last, there seemed to be fewer children who came seeking backpacks.
There were about 900 kids last year, Zermeno said. And at 15 minutes before the giveaway was to begin, there were 663 kids at the center – with more just arriving.
For the first time since Operation Hope started giving out backpacks in time for children to go back to school, Zermeno expanded the event to include live musical entertainment, face painting, balloons, a magic show, bounce houses, puppet shows, and even food.
“This is a plus,” the president said. “The flavor is different.”
He explained that several churches assisted in the event.
“It’s become a festival,” he said.
Three churches in particular really helped make the day a success, Zermeno said. Calvary Chapel, Lakeside Fellowship and Freedom Christian Center.
Zermeno said he wanted to thank the businesses, the churches, the volunteers and the community as a whole for helping to put on the annual backpack giveaway.
“It’s just tremendous,” Zermeno said.