Richmond Police Activities League hands out free backpacks

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A surprise gift awaited children who visited Hilltop Mall in Richmond on Saturday: backpacks filled with school supplies just in time for the first day of school on Aug. 20. Volunteers with the Richmond Police Activities League (RPAL), a non-profit organization, partnered with Pacific Gas & Electric and KTVU to hand out 300 backpacks.

Larry Lewis, the police league’s executive director, said the goal of the event was to build better community relations with the people of Richmond. “That’s what we really wanted to do,” Lewis said. “We want them to get a better understanding of police and be comfortable being around them.”

Ten-year-old Evelyn Ventora came to the mall to buy a school uniform and was surprised when a police officer directed her to the back-to-school event.

“I did not expect to get this free backpack at the mall,” said a gleaming Ventora, showing off her pink backpack with black stripes. “I am very happy.” Her 6-year-old brother Brian Ventora also received a bag.

Marcus Serrano, a Richmond resident who visited the event with his 7-year-old son said that such activities are good for the community. “I never saw such events happening in Richmond when I was growing up. It’s something new,” he said.

Serrano said that he doesn’t have any problems with police but he thinks they need to become more proactive to control the crime. “These activities will build a trust in the police,” he said.

“We are committed to local communities,” said Tamar Sarkissian, a spokesperson for PG & E. “It’s where our employees live and work. We’ve been supporting the event for the past three years.”

The event also included rides and games, food and drinks, a dunk tank and a special performance by the RPAL youth band, the Originalz.

RPAL volunteers began the four-day event on Thursday and will hold the last event on Sunday at Hilltop Mall starting at noon. On opening night on Aug. 15, RPAL, in partnership with 4Richmond, Target and Wal-Mart, gave away backpacks to 400 students.

Lewis said the aim of the event was also to raise funds to support the Richmond Explorer program where children learn how to become police officers.

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