The monsoons may be lagging, but summer is rolling by with most Tucson students set to start school in less than a month.

Those in search of free back-to-school events won’t want to miss the 2019 Pima County Sheriff’s Department Badges & Backpacks event from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church Ave.

The event is slated to welcome at least 4,000 people and distribute 2,000 backpacks with school supplies to children in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Tara Barrera, marketing specialist with the sheriff’s department.

“Our purpose is to provide an all-inclusive, one-stop shop where youths and parents can come for backpacks and school supplies along with a health, safety and activity fair that provides students with as many resources as possible for a safe, healthy and successful school year,” Barrera said.

Organizers are gearing up to take overflow from the Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Foundation Back to School Safety & Health Fair, which was held for the past six years at Park Place mall but will not take place this year.

“I can foresee many people who attended that event coming to ours. Last year our partnership with Banner Aetna really elevated Badges & Backpacks and partnering with El Rio Health has opened it up even more,” Barrera said.

The event provides an excellent opportunity for outreach about El Rio’s growing programs, facilities and services, according to El Rio Health marketing coordinator Nathan Holaway.

Holaway said the basic medical screenings for immunizations, vision, audio and dental are a huge service to the community.

“The dental screenings are probably our biggest draw. People often don’t realize the correlation between good dental health and overall health, so it is really important for our dental team to be out there,” he said.

The event also offers health and wellness demonstrations and highlights innovative programs such as El Rio’s FARMacy program, which educates families about gardening and cooking healthy recipes through a partnership with Tucson Village Farm.

“Partnering with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department for Badges & Backpacks at the Tucson Convention Center is a great opportunity for El Rio to screen the community’s youth and to make sure people know about the many programs we offer. A healthy community starts with our kids,” Holaway said. Outreach is equally important to the sheriff’s department, according to Barrera.

She said the department appreciates the opportunity to build better relationships with the community and to showcase specialized units and resources such as the SWAT team, forensics, search and rescue, and K-9s. They are especially excited about the therapy dogs program, which was implemented two years ago and has grown from one dog to five, including two that work with resource handlers inside schools.

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“We have so many programs that are valuable and this enables us to talk one-on-one with people. Lots of youth wouldn’t normally feel comfortable walking up to an officer in uniform and this is a chance to humanize the officers and spend some time with them,” Barrera said.

Kids also have an opportunity to recognize their favorite teachers through the event with a nomination in the Fill the “Victor” School Supplies Drive. The drive, to fill a large sheriff’s command vehicle named “Victor,” will be held from 10 a.m. to noon at select Target locations July 14, 21 and 28. School supplies donated during the drive will be gifted to a select number of teachers whose names were submitted by students.

“We go out to the schools when classes start and read the nominations to teachers and present them with the school supplies, so it is really special for them. We really want to help equip kids and teachers with what they need for a great school year,” Barrera said.

Kid’z Expo

The Arizona Bilingual Newspaper will do its part to make local kids classroom-ready with the Annual Kid’z Expo & Back to School Event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at El Pueblo Center, 101 W. Irvington Road. The expo expects to host more than 3,000 people and give out 2,500 backpacks filled with school supplies to students ages 4 to 14, according to marketing manager Karina Acuna.

She said many low-income families in the neighborhood count on the event to prepare for school.

“This is something lots of people feel in their hearts that families need, especially the families who have more children. Money is often tight after the summer and they really can’t afford school supplies, so this is a neat place for them to have a good time and get what they need. It pumps them up and gets them all excited for the new school year,” Acuna said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net