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STUDENTS SHOULDER GIFT PACKS

A Hillsborough sheriff's program equips needy kids with 125 backpacks filled with school supplies.

Dozens of needy children got help with their back-to-school shopping list Sunday with free backpacks from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's Hispanic Advisory Council has organized the giveaway for four years.

Somebody Cares Tampa Bay provided 125 backpacks, which volunteers stuffed with notebook paper, folders, pencils and crayons.

"Students compare what they have on the first day of school," said Delia Palermo, an education professor at St. Petersburg College and a member of the advisory council. "If you're embarrassed or don't have these things, you're already behind the eight ball. We just want to overcome that."

Idania Martin serves as chairwoman for the advisory council's community involvement projects. She said the group works year round to provide assistance to needy families in Hillsborough's Hispanic community. They offer scholarships to high school seniors and serve dinners during holidays.

On Sunday, a line of eager elementary age children wrapped around the Santa Maria Mission in North Tampa, eating cake and waiting for the school supplies.

Leslie Cevallos, 7, peeked inside her new denim-colored backpack with pink trim.

"It's nice," she said, zipping the bag closed. "But I wanted one that was light blue."

Kevin Graham can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.

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