A book bag is a simple thing, but until he got one Thursday, 10-year-old Eric Ruiz often felt left out and different at school. "Everybody had a backpack and I didn't," he said.
Eric was one of 100 fifth-graders at Bassett Street Elementary School who received free personalized book bags Thursday from the Assistance League of the San Fernando Valley.
Inside the black book bags, each of the students found a notebook, a glue stick, a ruler, folders, pens and pencils. Each child also received a health kit--a plastic bag holding a shampoo bottle, a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a comb and a brush.
"These are the essentials that a child needs that the school cannot furnish," said Pat Pietrowski, president of the league's Valley chapter.
Eric grinned as he pulled each item out to show the group of league volunteers. One man said, "You can comb your hair with that," as Eric saw the comb.
"Yeah," Eric replied, smiling, running his hand over his head, barely mussing his buzz cut.
Organizers said a backpack has become a social necessity in elementary school, just as lunch boxes were a generation ago. And Sue Florindez, a bilingual program coordinator, said the gift is fashionable and practical.
"Not having a bag impacts on their books that they take home," Florindez said. "And often they're too embarrassed to say that they don't have one."
In addition to the Bassett students, 200 more from Hamlin Street School, Capistrano Avenue School and Justice Street School in Canoga Park and Tarzana Elementary School will receive book bags before the end of the year.