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Area first-graders receive gift of ‘school boxes’ courtesy of Harbor Mesa Lions Club

Paularino Elementary Principal Annalisa Schwartz hands Aaron Romero Villalobos supplies donated by Harbor Mesa Lions Club
Paularino Elementary School Principal Annalisa Schwartz hands Aaron Romero Villalobos supplies Wednesday donated by the Harbor Mesa Lions Club.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Hundreds of Newport-Mesa Unified first-graders got a leg up on the new school year this week with some help from members of the local Harbor Mesa Lions Club who distributed specially donated “school box” care packages filled with fresh supplies.

Club members raised the funds to fill pencil boxes with crayons, markers, scissors, glue and other necessities for the year ahead, then spent a Saturday boxing items up into individual care packages they delivered to five area schools on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“What we saw in some communities was there were young kids who were missing a lot of the basic supplies,” Dede Wilson, an immediate past president of the club, said of the program’s origin. “When they’re young like that, it’s important they have all they need to start the school year and feel good about it.”

Members of the Harbor Lions Club assemble back-to-school kits during an Aug. 14 packing party.
Members of the Harbor Lions Club assemble back-to-school kits during an Aug. 14 packing party.
(Courtesy of Dede Wilson)

While the group previously appeared at assemblies to help pass out the boxes in person and help students put their names on each one, rules this year restricting who can visit campuses preclude such festivities. Instead, schools are passing out the boxes on their own.

On Wednesday, Paularino Elementary School Principal Annalisa Schwartz grabbed a cart and traversed the Costa Mesa campus to pass out boxes, each wrapped in a drawstring backpack provided by the Mesa Water District.

“This is the third year they’ve done it here,” Schwartz said of the Lions Club donation. “It’s their way of reaching out to the community and giving back to the students.”

Although school campuses were closed last year at delivery time, fresh boxes awaited students when they returned to hybrid learning in September — one small perk amid the pandemic.

Paularino Elementary Principal Annalisa Schwartz gathers packs of school supplies Wednesday to pass out to first-graders.
Paularino Elementary Principal Annalisa Schwartz gathers packs of school supplies Wednesday to pass out to first-graders.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“It was actually great because, at the time, we were not sharing materials,” Schwartz said of the school boxes. “So, for everyone to have their own school supplies was really great.”

Students in Chris Partner’s class approached the cart and shyly accepted their blue backpacks. Some opened up the pencil boxes, which came inside of a larger storage bin, to look through the brightly colored items inside.

“Thank you!” they said in unison, as Schwartz and her cart headed for another classroom. First-graders in Marsi Miller’s class cheered and wooted in appreciation. Miller expressed her thanks to the Harbor Mesa Lions, although they couldn’t be there.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “You don’t know how much we appreciate it.”

A first-grader in Rebekah Lefler's class at Paularino Elementary accepts a backpack of school supplies Wednesday.
A first-grader in Rebekah Lefler’s class at Paularino Elementary accepts a backpack of school supplies Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Lions Club members boxed up goods for Paularino, Pomona, Rea, Whittier and Wilson elementary schools and are hoping to add more campuses in future years. The effort has been bolstered in years past by a grant from Stater Bros. and donated boxes from the Costa Mesa IKEA.

The school box program is one of multiple efforts undertaken by club members. They’ve also collected pajamas for area foster youth and recently gathered 1,000 blankets for Costa Mesa’s temporary homeless shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene.

But the act of helping give kids and families in need of assistance is a cause that’s especially dear to the Harbor Mesa Lions, according to Wilson.

“We have a special place in our hearts for teachers and the education system,” she said.

First-grader Olivia Bernal looks over a school box donated to her and classmates by the Harbor Mesa Lions Club.
Olivia Bernal, a first-grader at Paularino Elementary looks over a school box donated to her and classmates by the Harbor Mesa Lions Club on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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