Back to school backpack giveaway at MacArthur Park

Celebrating the return of the annual Local Homegrown Diamonds backpack giveaway, eager children and parents of Long Beach waited patiently to receive free backpacks, school supplies and haircuts provided by the Local Hearts Foundation at MacArthur Park near Cambodia Town on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Tito Rodriguez, host of the Local Homegrown Diamonds Backpack giveaway, holds sign as he stands on Anaheim St. Photos by Gabriela Mungarro.

Over 1,000 backpacks provided by Local Hearts Foundation leaders, Tito Rodriguez and HJ Chong, and sponsor, acclaimed fashion brand Diamond Supply Co., were filled with school supplies and given to the students of Long Beach. Free haircuts were also provided by 16 barbers from the L.A. Barber College who were stationed inside the cultural center giving every boy in attendance a haircut of their choice–with their guardian’s approval, of course.

Isaiah Edwards, 6, grins and stays still as the volunteer barber from the L.A. Barber College tells him he’s almost done with his haircut. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

“This wouldn’t be possible without the people that contribute. All it takes is for someone to say, ‘This is the goal, this is the mission’,” said HJ Chong.

Local Hearts Foundation founder Tito Rodriguez, who has gained recognition in Long Beach for his charitable efforts over the past decade, is compelled to provide the underprivileged families of Long Beach with the help they deserve.

“We wanted to provide those backpacks to under-resourced families. That’s really what it’s all about, giving back to those families,” said Rodriguez, who is also known as the “Hood Santa,” a given moniker for his charitable gifts during the holidays to children with good grades.

Juliana Iraheta, 12, and brother Issac Iraheta, 8, join their mother Daisy Moreno, 34, looking through piles of backpacks at the free backpack giveaway. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

Families who volunteered were overjoyed to be part of the non-profit event, like Latanya Babbit who held signs reading “free backpacks” and “free haircuts” with her niece Paisley Mendoza, 11. “We do a lot of things, but this was something to do on a Saturday to teach kids to get involved in their city and help out,” said Babbit.

Paisley Mendoza, 11, with her aunt, Latanya Babbit, hold sings for free backpacks and hair cuts at MacArthur Park, Long Beach. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

“Tito is doing a good job. It’s pretty awesome, and we appreciate it,” said Edgar Mijares, 30, who attended the giveaway with his three nieces.

Rodriguez admits that without sponsors, volunteers and people who want to give back none of his efforts would be possible.

“We’re looking for partnerships, people with a generous heart who want to help people out. Diamond right now is our biggest sponsor at the moment and has been donating for the past nine years,” Rodriguez said. “We decided to do it here at MacArthur Park because this is my park, this is where I grew up. I’m born and raised here, this is where I’m going to do everything. Together we can bring some attention to this part that needs it the most. That’s what we’re trying to do, give back to this area.”

Edgar Mijares,30, stands in line with nieces, Emma, 6, Sophia,10, and Isabela, 9, at MacArthur Park in Long Beach for the Local Hearts Foundation backpack giveaway. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

Damien Gonzalez, 9, waits his turn for a haircut as he glances over at Joseph Atella, 9, showing the rest of the kids his new school supplies and backpack. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

L.A. Barber College students give free haircuts to all boys who attend the backpack giveaway. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

Jayden Sann, 5, sits eagerly to see his new cut as a volunterr barber from the L.A. Barber College combs his hair. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

The 4th Annual Local Homegrown Diamonds Backpack Giveaway draws thousands of Long Beach residents with their children to MacArthur Park for free haircuts and school supplies. Photo by Gabriela Mungarro.

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