East Pasco County communities began gearing up in recent days for the start of a new school year that begins Monday.
In Dade City, Turning Point Church held a back-to-school event Saturday at Pyracantha Park. In Zephyrhills, the third annual Zephyrhills Community Back-to-School Block Party was held Tuesday in the Zephyrhills High School gymnasium.
The Dade City event featured the fourth annual Balling for Jesus! basketball tournament, free backpacks, bounce houses, music, games, face painting and food. Anti- drug and anti-bullying messages were broadcast to help prepare students for the new school year.
Turning Point Church youth leader Dee Reed said the event was a real community effort with volunteers from throughout the area. “It went above and beyond what we were looking for,” Reed said. “We had more than 992 kids registered, and we gave out 551 backpacks. It was a great turnout.”
In Zephyrhills, the day began with a free pancake breakfast, and free backpacks filled with school supplies were given to the first 400 school-age students in attendance. Local agencies and organizations were on hand to conduct free physicals and eye exams.
Tampa Bay Rays mascots Raymond and DJ Kitty were at the event for photo opportunities.
James Washington, ZHS English teacher and co-organizer of the event with fellow teacher Heather Zirbel, said, “This year it seemed obvious that the need is greater than other years. This year we had people lined up to get backpacks at 6:45 (a.m.). They were gone before 10.”
Washington said they gave out 440 backpacks. “I am satisfied that we were able to get stuff to people that needed it the most,” he said.