Local families flocked to Castle Family Health Center for its fifth annual Back-to-School event last Friday, July 14.
The non-profit healthcare organization located at the Castle Commerce Center obtained enough backpacks to provide for 640 students who might otherwise go without during the upcoming school year.
“We’re really excited to be able to support the community, knowing that a lot of people are having a difficult time supporting their families,” said Castle Family Health Center Chief Operating Officer Peter Mojarras. “It’s a community effort.”
A crowd of hundreds, including young children, should have been a recipe for disaster, but Castle streamlined the process. The line of families stretched through a labyrinth of hallways inside the clinic. The event was held indoors this year to shield everyone from the sweltering temperatures outside. Volunteers and staff wheeled carts with cold water through the halls to distribute to those waiting in line, and were ready at each stage of the process to prevent any confusion.
“We work on efficiency here,” said Mojarras. “We have a great team here, and we all collaborate and work together.”
While the event was designed to assist low-income families who might otherwise struggle to afford supplies for their children, the energy felt more like fun than charity. Children rushed with excitement to obtain their bags, and were greeted with ice cream and lemonade at the end. Some families made a day of the event, including a group of three sisters and their respective children, who attended together.
“I heard about it from her,” said Shalayyha DeHart, gesturing to one of her sisters standing alongside her. “She told the group chat, and we said ‘let’s go!’”
“Honestly, this is the best event like this I’ve been to so far,” said her sister, Marquita Barrett. “It’s hot, but they’ve got us indoors and are giving us water. They’re doing well with all these people.”
Although the line was long, it moved quickly. When attendees reached the end of the line they were met with informational booths offering information about services offered by the clinic and its partners. At the end children had the opportunity to spin a wheel to win a gift card, though every child that participated received candy.
Located in a room adjacent to the informational booths, shelves extending across the room were stacked high with backpacks in a variety of colors and designs. Families presented a slip stating how many children needed packs, and staff pulled from the collection, allowing the children some say in what design or colors they wanted. The packs were filled with school supplies to help the children succeed in the upcoming school year. “They’re excited when the kids grab the backpacks, and they get something that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise gotten,” said Maggie Guzman, an LVN and office coordinator who was helping distribute the backpacks. “There’s an excitement in their eyes.”
“It’s nice to see the people in our community,” said Victoria Valdez, a medical assistant with Castle Family Health Center. “It’s rewarding to see their happiness.”
Alongside clinic staff, students from Atwater High School helped to direct families and give out ice cream tickets.
“We’re volunteering with Key Club, which is an organization that’s devoted to community service,” said Natalie Medina, an Atwater High senior. She shared that this was the largest event she had the opportunity to attend representing a club.
“I think it’s amazing. There’s a lot of people, and it helps the community a lot,” added Mariah Dhillon, the Key Club treasurer. “I’m glad to be here and help out.”
This giveaway is not the only way that Castle Family Health Center works to give back to families in the community. On that same day, on the other side of the health campus, a large team of healthcare providers were performing well-child exams for families. This included immunizations and other medical care needed for students to return to school. The clinic had brought in extra clinicians for the day to keep things running smoothly. Castle also provides sports physicals to student athletes. The majority take place earlier in the year so that students are prepared for summer sports. Thanks to a large grant from Bloss Memorial Healthcare District, Castle was able to provide 500 physicals free of charge. According to Chief Operating Officer Mojarras, all of these efforts contribute to the total health of the community.
“Our mission really is serving the underserved. We know that in this community there is a high level of poverty,” said Mojarras. “We look at the challenges people have … outside of just healthcare.”