Multiple back-to-school bashes help military families and more across Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With back-to-school right around the corner for Jacksonville students, many organizations were working to make sure students are fully equipped with everything they need for a successful school year.

The YMCA held a Back-to-School Military Bash event on Saturday across six First Coast branches.

Over 2,000 participants pre-registered to attend the giveaway, and over 800 backpacks filled with notebooks, pencils and more were handed out to military families. The supplies were donated by YMCA members, local residents and organizations, and the Wildlight branch in Yulee had the most attendees with over 800 participants.

Eric Hernandez, a U.S. Air Force veteran and YMCA fitness instructor, attended the event with his wife and six children.

Eric Hernandez with his family at the Back-to-School Military Bash (YMCA)

“Some of the biggest things I miss about wearing the military uniform are the team bonding and unity and knowing that support is always available. For low-income or separated-by-deployment families, events like are a blessing,” Hernandez said.

Kemal Gaspar, VyStar Credit Union’s Vice President of Community Engagement, was also in attendance as one of the event’s sponsors.

“Our credit union was founded 70 years ago with the desire to support military members and their families in their financial goals. Our commitment to those who serve our country is unchanged,” Gaspar said. “We continue to demonstrate that commitment through community partnerships, events and initiatives, and we share the First Coast YMCA and the Armed Services YMCA’s mission to strengthen and support local service members and their families. To that end, we’re proud to sponsor the Military Appreciation Day Back-to-School Bash.”

VyStar employees at the Back-to-School Military Bash (YMCA)

The Wounded Warrior Project also held a back-to-school backpack giveaway on Saturday for military families. More than 300 people attended the event and around 200 backpacks were given away to children of wounded veterans.

The event helped families get ready to head back to school. Some of those families live with the support of VA benefits, so being able to provide this support without putting a pinch on their budget is a great way to help out, a Wounded Warrior Project spokesperson said.

Ricky Herndon, a Marine Corps veteran, said his family has four kids and shopping for school supplies can get expensive.

“We generally spend four to $500 on school supplies with all the lists that they get from their schools and stuff. This helps with a good chunk because they go through backpacks every year. They go through a bunch of stuff every year and this always helps a great deal,” Herndon said. “I love spending time with veterans and any chance that I get to come out to a Wounded Warrior Project division is always a good time. We get to have some camaraderie. We get to break bread a lot of times and just spend time together as a family and to be able to have the kids here and our wives or spouses here.”

Participants at the Wounded Warrior Project backpack giveaway event (Wounded Warrior Project)

Teresa Critton, spouse of an Army veteran, also attended the event. She said the event is “immensely” helping her family of six.

“I’m preparing for them to go back from high school all the way to elementary school and we need that,” Critton said. “I love that we can connect with other families who have been through the same things that we are going through. My children are out here playing tug of war, meeting other families, meeting other children. So I really love going to a warrior project event.”

On July 13, Wounded Warrior Project teammates worked together to pack the backpacks.

Wounded Warrior Project employees working to prepare backpacks (Wounded Warrior Project)

The Jacksonville mayor’s Community Based Crime Reduction Program and New Town Success Zone also hosted a Back-to-School Bash in New Town on Saturday morning.

The event included free grocery distribution, a school supplies giveaway, and an on-site medical clinic. Attendees enjoyed music, prizes, and a kids play zone.

About the Author:

Kendra is a digital content producer for News4JAX, since May 2022. She graduated from Bethune Cookman University in 2015 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Kendra got her Master's Degree in English from Georgia Southern University in 2017.