PATTERSON — Families gathered downtown Saturday for a budget-friendly bonanza of fun and food, heading home with free reading books and some serious safety messages.
The Patterson Block Party and Safety Fair drew roughly 5,000 people throughout the day, said organizers, handing out bags of free stuff and tickets for free hot dogs. The city of Patterson and Patterson Joint Unified School District were the co-hosts of the event for a second year.
FFA members handed out thousands of children's books. Patterson High junior Juan Barbontin said he likes watching youngsters dive into the selections. Standing beside stacks of titles for teens, senior Victoria Rodgers said she is a fan of the Percy Jackson series books that were on her table.
"The kids are so excited to get their books. They hug them," community volunteer Katy Kraemer said as she passed out Disney books.
The top titles made picking one book a tough call for some. Patterson Superintendent Phil Alfano said the books came from publishers' overstocks for pennies on the dollar through First Book. The district hopes Patterson High's warehouse careers classes, which start this year, will become a distribution point for the company.
"See the (shipping) label," Alfano said. "Maybe next year it'll say Patterson."
At school booths, class lists for Monday's first day of school stood next to crafts and games.
Tyler Posey, 12, called out for contestants at the Creekside Middle School booth. Tyler crafted an old-time carnival game, cutting the wood frame and welding metal courses for a ball run. "I help out the little kids a little bit," Tyler said.
The support staff union had an arts activity and face painting at its booth, which was decorated with job titles such as maintenance engineer, para-educator and computer tech. Gloria Pinedo, Patterson chapter president of the California School Employees Association, said she wanted parents to understand all the jobs school workers do.
Keeping children safe
Firetrucks, police cars and other emergency workers were on hand to show youngsters their equipment and give parents information on keeping their children safe.
Patterson Mayor Luis Molina said two tragedies in 2011, when a 4-year-old and 10-year-old died in separate murder-suicides, spurred the city to create a child safety fair. Working with the school district brought more activities and volunteers and helped spread the word.
"It's a great partnership. We serve the same kids, the same families," Molina said.
Tabitha Cardenas, whose son Juliani was snatched from his grandmother's arms, stood by Marc Klaas at the KlaasKids Foundation booth with her daughters, ages 2 and 1. Cardenas said she has finishing coursework to be a respiratory therapist and is planning her upcoming wedding.
But she said she stays connected through Facebook with the thousands of well-wishers who responded when her 4-year-old was kidnapped by ex-boyfriend Jose Esteban Rodriguez in 2011. Rodriguez's car was found in the Delta-Mendota Canal and the bodies were recovered soon after.
"If a kid goes missing, they write me and I post it to Marc's wall," she said. "I tell people it's usually somebody they know I hear about that all the time. Girls should be more aware of the men they're getting with, especially if they're having children."
Preparing for all possibilities
Klaas is a fair regular, providing parents with a child identification page that has color pictures and fingerprints, and a DNA swab kit to use and keep in the freezer, in case it's needed. The materials come with child safety tips and an action plan if a child is missing.
"It's really about prevention, giving them good information to avoid a victimization in the first place," Klaas said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.