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SELMA – When Selma’s John Salazar decided to start the Backpacks for Bears giveaway for local students, he was following a family tradition of giving that started with his grandmother.

“[John’s] parents, my brother and his mom, are very giving,” said John’s aunt, Margaret Salazar. “And then his nana, Senaida Salazar, was always doing this type of thing. She was involved with fundraisers and making tacos at the parade or she’d make cakes to sell for 50 cents. It all went for scholarships. She was always thinking of ways to help the kids.”

While the fourth annual event was in full swing at Shafer Park on Aug. 4, Salazar was surrounded by family members who helped gather, sort, transport and set up the backpacks, pencil pouches, notebooks, booklets, coloring pages and raffle prizes they were distributing for the event.

His son and daughter, John Salazar III, and Emmalie Salazar, supervised the coloring station. His dad helped him set up a large banner to alert passersby that the giveaway was happening. His brother, Isaiah Salazar, took pictures to capture the event. His girlfriend, sister, cousins and aunts helped children fill out their pledge form, gave out raffle tickets and kept the long line of families moving.

John Salazar said he was prompted to start giving out backpacks as a way to give back to his hometown. This year, 420 backpacks were available and as word spreads, he’s hoping they can grow the giveaways by 100 backpacks each year until they reach 1,000.

“At first, it was just me and the family. It’s our fourth year and little by little, we’ve been getting more donations. We got a good donation from Glacier Refrigeration and Yvette Montijo a few days ago. It’s good to get the businesses involved.”

The giveaway started at 9 a.m. and Salazar listened to each student as they told him what grade they were entering, which school they’d attend and about their career goals. Some were about to enter transitional kindergarten while others were high school age. Salazar would also give them a high five, a handshake and some joking around to bring out the more timid children.

“It’s been a blessing, along with other people that contribute, to be able to fill the need for families,” John Salazar senior, said. “I was just thankful he was able to put this together. It’s a good accomplishment.”

The very first family in line that morning was Ryan and Lori Hull and their four children, Lauren, Kyden, Chloe and Michael, ranging in age from 9 to 4 years. Lori Hull said she heard about the backpack giveaway from her neighbor and was grateful for the help.

“It would be hard to afford all this,” Lori Hull said. “Now, we can get clothes and we’ll have enough so they can eat. This helps out a lot.”

After going through the line, the children said they felt more prepared to meet their teachers, make new friends and to start the school year.

“I’m looking forward to learning and to reading,” Kyden said.

Isabel Zavala brought her grandchildren, kindergartner Keira Brown and sixth-grader Jaedan Stockton, to the Backpacks for Bears event.

Jaedan picked out a light grey backpack and said he was looking forward to seeing his friends at school, meeting his new teachers and their new principal. For his pledge, Jaedan wrote that his career goal is to design video games. Keira said she’s eager to see her friends at school and since she “likes to comb hair,” she wants to become a hairstylist.

Zavala said since she’s eager for her grandchildren to continue learning and having the backpacks helps her daughter stretch her budget.

“Their mom’s a single mom so I watch them to help her out. I’m excited they’re going to go learn and make something of their lives,” she said of the new school year. Since the children grow quickly, and clothes can be expensive, she too was grateful for the backpacks and school supplies.

“Now their mom can get their clothes and their shoes. They grow out of them fast and they’re expensive.”

Every so often, Salazar would call out numbers for a raffle and kids would excitedly pick out art supplies, games or fun school items from the prize table that his mother, Nanette Tuttle, was supervising.

“John’s been here since kindergarten up. You’ll never get this kid to leave this town,” she said. “He loves Selma and he loves kids so what he doesn’t get in donations, it comes out of his own heart. It’s what he wants to do for the people here and he loves every minute of it.”

Tuttle said she hopes that giving spirit becomes contagious in town and that other residents consider what they can do to help students and the community as a whole.

“Anything you can do like maybe helping somebody at the library or helping out at the school where your kids or grandkids or friends’ kids go. We need to help the kids because they need the support to help them grow.”

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