Operation Hope helps 1,000 kids start school with new backpacks

FELLSMERE – In the last few days leading up to Saturday’s Operation Hope backpack giveaway, volunteers feverishly stuffed more than 200 bags with paper, pencils, pens and other supplies.

“The crunch started last week,” volunteer Natalie Wolff said minutes before a crush of kids streamed through the doors to pick up their new backpacks.

Some of the first children through were siblings Celeste and Ernesto Campos and Brian and Estephania Marchan.

“It’s cool,” 9-year-old Brian said of being able to go back to school with his new backpack.

“It pops in there,” Celeste said of her turquoise backpack. “It’s very noticeable.”

Estephania, 7, who is going into the second grade said she likes her new purple and pink backpack, while first-grader Ernesto Campos likes his own.

Last year’s backpack giveaway at Operation Hope helped more than 700 kids get back to school on the right foot.

“It’s amazing,” Operation Hope President Jesse Zermeno said of being able to help even more kids this year. “It’s wonderful.”

“We’re very happy to help so many, many families,” Zermeno said, explaining that families are still struggling with their finances due to the economy.

Several businesses and groups helped Operation Hope fill more backpacks this year, including Southern Fulfillment, First United Bank, First Presbyterian Church of Vero Beach, and Attorney Rush Lawson.

“God bless them for helping those children in need,” Zermeno said.

Also on hand Saturday to help children get the appropriate backpack was 2011 Florida Teacher of the Year Cheryl Conley, of Vero Beach’s Osceola Magnet.

“This is absolutely amazing,” she said of what Operation Hope was doing to help students. “Every child deserves a successful start.”

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