SAN JOQUIN COUNTY Department of Child Support Services hosted its 8th Annual Block Party at Chase Chevrolet in Stockton, with lunch, children-centered activities and a backpack giveaway.

Parents and guardians of children had the opportunity to register in advance for their child or children to receive a backpack filled with school supplies. Reservations were available for 860 backpacks during the July 29 event, with another 50 set aside for walk-ups, said Kathleen Bohacek, assistant director with the Department of Child Support Services.

The event started in 2015 as a collaboration between some of the department’s staff, with some vendors and approximately 100 people in attendance.

The 8th Annual Block Party had 67 vendors and community agencies providing children with free supplies and fun activities between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Ashley Bowling, a Stockton mother, came out to the event with her three daughters, ages 3, 5 and 8. “There’s good music here, and it really helps when you’re out here with kids in the sun,” Bowling said.

Kennedy Bowling, 8, practices hula hooping alongside cheerleaders with the McNair Eagles group during the San Joaquin County Department Of Child Support Services’ 8th Annual Block Party in Stockton on July 29, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Bowling said that as she waited in the line earlier in the day to collect backpacks for her daughters, the organizers checked with everyone in the line and gave out cold water from water coolers. “It showed that they were really thinking about us and doing this for us,” Bowling said.

Also at the event was San Joaquin County Public Library’s Training Wheels, an early literacy vehicle that usually travels to preschools and day care centers in the county with a special storytime. Parents, guardians and children got to walk around the vehicle and take books of their liking.

Lisa Lee, a program specialist with the San Joaquin County Public Library, welcomes Antonio Jenkins, 9, and Isaiajanae Stanley, 5, onto the Training Wheels bus during the 8th Annual Block Party on Saturday. Training Wheels provided children with free books at the event. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

“My daughter loves reading, and I’m excited to read with her the books she picked up today,” said Vivian Plasencia, who recently moved to Stockton from Oakland with her three children.

According to Bohacek, the department newly received additional funds and is starting a waitlist for those who were unable to get backpacks at the Saturday block party.

Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.