Holyoke’s back-to-school fair promises fun, food and free supplies

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HOLYOKE — The South Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative is gearing up for its annual Backpack Back-to-School Fair to supply local children with necessary educational resources.

The fair takes place Saturday, Aug. 19, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at McNally Field, behind Kelley School in Holyoke. The back-to-school fair began in 2012, intending to supply a few hundred children.

Despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the initiative team continued distributing supplies and food via individual events and drive-thru pick-ups. “The in-person event is a lot better for us. It’s just a fun day, a great day for the kids,” said Ed Caisse of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department.

Caisse expects to give away 2,500 backpacks to Holyoke public school children, focusing on families living at or below the poverty threshold. “We’re hoping to see not just the 2,500 kids but about 3,000 to 3,500 people at the event,” he said.

The backpacks are loaded with essential school supplies. The number of bags has steadily increased over the years, from 350 in the inaugural year to 2,500 this year, reflecting the community’s growing need.

“No registration or income proof is needed. We take people at their goodwill that they’re going to come because they need the backpacks,” Caisse said. He said the giveaway is directed to Holyoke residents.

The Back-to-School Fair promises a festive atmosphere. Attendees can expect pony rides, power cars, inflatable basketball courts and water slides. The initiative will also give away 50 bicycles in partnership with a local nonprofit.

Sodexo, the food distributor for Holyoke Public Schools, will prepare 3,000 hot dogs and 3,000 hamburgers. There will also be snow cones, popcorn, cookies, and ice cream donated by Hood.

Primary sponsors of the event include People’s Bank, Sodexo, Cradle to Crayons, Springfield Pharmacy, Westfield Bank, CHD, Hood, the local police and fire departments and the sheriff’s department.

The event will acknowledge the top sponsors and other top-tier donors. “We are extremely grateful for their support,” Caisse said.

Organizations interested in supporting the Backpack Back-to-School Fair can contact Caisse at 413-858-0225 or via email at ed.caisse@sdh.state.ma.us.

“It’s a great day for the kids, and we can’t wait to see everyone there,” Caisse said.

Mayor supports fair

The LugNutz Café at Marcotte Ford will welcome Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia as guest chef Aug. 2. The fundraiser will support the Back-to-School Fair. Marcotte will donate $2 to the mayor’s cause for every customer who purchases the Local Control sandwich, a boneless chicken tender.

Garcia will prepare lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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