Tools for School event
Families look through free backpacks available for low-income students at Saturday’s Tools for School event in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

About 400 low-income students in the Santa Barbara community are stocked up on new school supplies for the upcoming academic year.

Donations from the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, the nonprofit Second Story Associates and a local branch of Union Bank provided the free back-to-school necessities at Saturday’s annual Tools for School event.

For about two hours, the Housing Authority’s Presidio Springs Community Center on Laguna Street opened its doors to hundreds of families with school-age and preschool children enrolled in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Children entering kindergarten through 12th grade received backpacks loaded with glue, scissors, crayons, erasers, highlighters, notebooks, pens, pencils and other goods.

Second Story Associates partnered with First 5 Santa Barbara County to expand Tools for School to include children younger than age 5 on the South Coast, and to offer preschool education information and resources.

The event, now in its sixth year, helps prepare and support families and their children for school. It aims to encourage academic success and high school graduation among low-income youths through a variety of collaborations and programming.

“We believe education is a key component of breaking poverty,” said Rob Fredericks, executive director and CEO of the Housing Authority. “It’s preparing kids for a job when they get out of school and going on to higher education.”

Besides school items, the event featured information about the Housing Authority’s youth enrichment programs and other area programs and resources for youths and families.

Tools for School event

The free supplies were provided through donations from the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, Second Story Associates and a branch of Union Bank. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The gathering served as a community resource fair at which parents could register with agencies such as the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, the Santa Barbara City College Promise, Cal-SOAP, REACH, Surgical Eye Expeditions International, MESA, AVP California, Partners in Education, the Community Action Commission, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Youth Council, the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, the Wilderness Youth Project, the Assistance League of Santa Barbara, LoyalTeach, the Santa Barbara Public Library, the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the Santa Barbara City College School of Extended Learning, the Family Service Association and CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation).

Santa Barbara resident Nicholas Willcox said it was his first time attending Tools for School. He heard about the event from a neighbor who also is a client of the Housing Authority.

Willcox, who has three children, said he served in the U.S. Army for five years before moving from Oklahoma to Santa Barbara almost a year ago. He said that he particularly liked the resource fair that was available on Saturday.

“I’m from the Army, so I like community events,” Willcox said. “We came to obviously get school supplies, and I know that every time we go to an event, there are always people giving out information, which I have a whole bag full of. I love community events and figuring out new things in the area.”

Willcox’s son walked away with a new Adidas backpack and several other basic supplies.

Noah, 9, who will attend La Patera Elementary School, picked out his backpack for the year. 

“My backpack has a lot of zippers and pockets to put all of my stuff in,” he said.

About 25 Housing Authority staff members contributed their time to volunteer at the gathering alongside others who assisted giving away educational items and managing the pedestrian flow.

National data indicate that school supplies and fees for parents with children in elementary through high school plan to spend more than $680 per child, an often unaffordable expense for low-income parents.

“When you see families struggling for the basic costs of housing, food and clothing, the school supplies are an added expense,” said Patricia Wheatley, board chair of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, adding that the event provides “both the children and parents with the confidence to start school on the right foot.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Tools for School event

The Housing Authority’s Presidio Springs Community Center on Laguna Street in Santa Barbara opens its doors Saturday for the Tools for School event. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)