More than 1,200 students at Huron Elementary and Middle schools received new backpacks stuffed with supplies and a letter of encouragement from Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro for the new school year.

“At Fresno State, we talk about being bold in order to reach new heights in our endeavors,” the letter says. “I hope you will keep that in mind as you continue your education and prepare for your career.”

Fresno State partnered, for the second year, with United Way Fresno and Madera Counties on its “More than a Backpack” distribution Aug. 14 at Huron Middle School in the Coalinga-Huron Unified School District. The University contributed $10,000 to purchase Fresno State backpacks for students in fifth to eighth grades. Chevron, also a partner, provided additional funds to buy backpacks for those in transitional kindergarten through fourth grade.

A total of 1,230 backpacks were distributed along with school and art supplies provided through contributions from other community organizations and businesses.

“Anytime a local University gets involved with local communities, it benefits the students and the families because it starts to build a bridge to higher education before most students even start to think about going to college,” said Lori Villanueva, Coalinga-Huron Unified School District superintendent. “When colleges have a tangible and visible presence at our local schools, it makes the idea of achieving a college education tangible for our students. We appreciate this program and hope it is a gateway for more involvement from Fresno State in our schools.”

The event began with a resource fair and backpack distribution followed by a keynote speech by Castro and special guest Jose Ramirez, the WBC super lightweight world champion boxer. Fresno State’s first lady, Mary Castro, also participated in the giveaway.

“Mary and I firmly believe there’s talent and potential in every household in our region,” Castro said. “By meeting with and giving new backpacks to the children in Huron, we are pleased to help spark that potential in the next generation of future Fresno State Bulldogs and Central Valley leaders.”

The “More than a Backpack” event started last year to give back to smaller communities in Fresno and Madera counties that are in need but often get overlooked. While the backpacks are the focal point, the event also gives a little something extra to students. Thanks to Chevron, 160 Huron students will visit Fresno later this year to explore the city. The trip will include a stop at Fresno State.

At last year’s event in Madera, the United Way announced it would give a full scholarship to one student to attend Fresno State.

We understand that Fresno State has a very powerful reputation in this region for educating our youth in the Valley, giving opportunities for advancement, for careers,” said Mona Cummings, senior director of resource development for the United Way.

“President Castro cares about these smaller communities. He understands that many are first-generation students and this is where they come from.”