The organizers and volunteers distributed nearly 300 backpacks filled with school supplies to local students on Saturday at Ortega Park. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

Hundreds of local students are now ready for the first day of school, thanks to a community-led school supply distribution event held in Ortega Park Saturday.

The Santa Barbara School Supply Drive was organized by current and former students in Santa Barbara High School’s Ethnic Studies Club and members of the community, and it continues a summer of “Occupy Ortega Park” events, meant to preserve the historical art and strengthen neighborhood involvement.

Valerie Jaimez, a former Santa Barbara High School student and recent University of San Diego (USD) graduate, helped coordinate the work behind the event, along with her sister Liliana, a junior at SBHS and current president of the Ethic Studies Club. This included raising more than $4,000 to purchase the school supplies, which ranged from ruled notebooks, scissors, and glue for elementary students to binders, planners, and sticky notes for the high school students.

Valerie said after graduating from USD, where she studied sociology, she was motivated to come back and help strengthen the community. “I wanted to help build community back in Santa Barbara,” she said.

The event was completely organized by the youth and promoted by local leaders such as Michael Montenegro and Andi Garcia through social media, and nearly 300 students lined up to receive the free gift bags. Local artist @oxy.airbrush and the up-and-coming Youth Makers Market were also set up at the park, along with bilingual COVID-19 information booths and a kids’ arts and crafts table.

Joseph Velasco, director of Ethnic Studies at SBHS, said the students started putting together the event while he was on vacation. “Before I got back, they had already planned it,” he said. Velasco said he was excited to see them show passion to help other students.

For Valerie Jaimez, the amount of support and turnout for the drive shows the strength of the people in Santa Barbara. “It’s a testament to community,” she said. “All we got is each other. ”

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