Some back-to-school events go beyond backpacks and pencils and offer health care, groceries for entire families

Isaac Elementary School District and United Healthcare gave away 1,000 backpacks full of school supplies during its joint back-to-school event at Isaac Middle School. (Photo by Kylie Werner/Cronkite News)

Parents and students were able to get immunizations. (Photo by Kylie Werner/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – It’s the season for backpack giveaways, as parents and guardians prepare their children for a new school year.

School districts, health care providers, community centers, churches and even law firms are offering packs stuffed with school supplies. But in addition to the usual pencils, pens and markers, some are going the extra mile, helping the whole family with additional services like free health care, immunizations, even groceries.

For example, the Laveen Unified School District is offering flu, COVID and the usual back-to-school immunizations July 27. Barcelona Elementary School in the Alhambra Elementary School District is providing the same inoculations to students Aug. 1. Adelante Healthcare West Phoenix is giving away backpacks full of supplies July 22 and will have pediatricians on hand for well child checks.

In the Isaac School District, parents and guardians were able to take advantage of health services along with their children at a recent back-to-school event.

“We know … budgets are really, really tight and we know the economy is in a bad place right now, so being able to give out 1,000 backpacks to kids means parents and families don’t have to go out and buy those back-to-school supplies,” said Jean Kalbacher, CEO of United Healthcare Community Plan of Arizona, which partnered with the Isaac district. In addition, “we brought in a ton of different community organizations so they can get a whole bunch of medical screenings done all in one place.”

Isaac School District and United Healthcare teamed up for the 17th year to host the event July 15 that provided free physicals, dental screening, vision and hearing tests, school supplies, groceries and haircuts.

Isaac Elementary School District and United Healthcare have been putting on the back-to-school event for 17 years. (Photo by Kylie Werner/Cronkite News)

Isaac Elementary School District and United Healthcare have been putting on the back-to-school event for 17 years. (Photo by Kylie Werner/Cronkite News)

Located between 27th and 51st avenues from Van Buren Street to Indian School Road, the Isaac district has 12 schools with 37% of families having income below the poverty level, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“We have known that this area of town is more low income, and health equity is really a challenge,” Kalbacher said. “Health equity is really about people not having access to a lot of those social determinants of health. So if you’re not able to get food, if you’re not able to have stable housing, that impacts education.”

More than 1,600 people attended.

Lily Mesa-Lema, Isaac’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the event was an excellent way to get kids excited for the new school year, which begins Aug. 7.

Mesa-Lema also emphasized the importance that health plays in learning.

Miguel Suarez has two children who attend school in the Isaac district, and he said they were especially thankful for the health services.

“My wife took advantage of a physical exam and my younger daughter – she’s gonna go into first grade – she took advantage of screening of the ears and eyes,” he said.

Suarez emphasized how the services helped his family financially.

“(It helps) a lot, you know, we’ve been struggling a little,” Suarez said. “But it means a lot because it is being provided … and all the services are in one place.”

Kalbacher said the event was not just for students, but for the whole family.

“If parents or grandparents aren’t happy and healthy, they can’t help their kids,” she said. “You can’t help your kids do their homework if you’ve got really old glasses or you’ve never had your vision tested.”

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A 2023 Deloitte survey of 1,200 U.S. parents showed back-to-school spending is expected to decrease 10% from 2022, with parents spending about $597 per student for K-12 students. Parents who responded to the survey said they are cutting back because of inflation, choosing not to buy new clothes and technology.

This is the second year the Suarez family attended the Isaac event, and he said he plans to return next year.

Kalbacher said she wanted families to take advantage of everything offered, and “hopefully this will be an identifier for some people that have health conditions that they didn’t know they had, and we can prevent it from getting any worse.”

Upcoming back-to-school events

  • Adelante Healthcare West Phoenix is holding a back-to-school bash from 10 a.m. to noon July 22 at 9610 N. Metro Parkway West, Phoenix. In addition to giving away backpacks full of school supplies, pediatricians will be on hand for well child checks. Reserve a spot.
  • Peoria Firefighters Charities and the city of Peoria are giving out backpacks with supplies at 8 a.m. July 29 until supplies last at the Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria. Students must be present to receive a backpack.
  • Lerner and Rowe is sponsoring a drive-through backpack giveaway for K-12 students at noon July 29 until supplies last at Metro Auto Auction parking lot, 2475 S. 59th Ave., Phoenix.
Kylie Werner KY-lee WER-ner (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Kylie Werner expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor communications. Werner, is assigned to Cronkite News this semester.