SARATOGA SPRINGS — Boxes of school supplies were carried into the recreation hall at Saratoga Race Course on Wednesday morning, as volunteers readied to pack more than 40 backpacks for the children of backstretch workers.
Each volunteer received a school supply list with a child's name and grade before deciding on an appropriate backpack and selecting the needed supplies.
"We used to get backpacks from churches and organizations that were already packed with general supplies," said Karen Chavez, general manager at New York Race Track Chaplaincy, which has hosted the school supply event for nearly 15 years.
"We found that those who got them still needed to go out and buy things, so we started packing them specifically to each child's needs."
Chavez said the organization receives supply and monetary donations, and whatever isn't received is purchased.
The children at Saratoga Race Course are expected to receive the backpacks on Monday.
In addition to Saratoga Race Course, the program benefits more than 40 children at Aqueduct Racetrack and 250 children at Belmont Park.
Gansevoort resident Bob Rehm said it was his first time volunteering to stuff backpacks.
"They go directly to the people who need them, which is the part that attracted me," he said. "They're a great people, and the Chaplaincy is a great organization."
Rehm said he hopes the children who receive the backpacks have a successful school year.
"They'll be able to start the year fully prepared, which is a tremendous thing," he said. "I hope this program continues."
Letty McLaughlin, whose husband, Kiaran, is a racehorse trainer, said she tries to meet as many needs of the Chaplaincy as possible.
"Whatever they ask of me, I try to do," she said. "This helps make life easier for the people who take care of our horses and ensures that the school year starts out on a good note for their children."
McLaughlin said she hopes more backstretch workers take advantage of the opportunity.
"If they don't fill out a school supply form, their child won't receive a backpack, so I hope the word spreads," she said. "We want to make this happen for them, because it's so important."
Jockey John Velazquez's 15-year-old son, Michael, helped stuff backpacks Wednesday, as he has for the past several years.
"This is the most people I've ever seen help," he said of the more than 20 volunteers. "It feels good to do something."
The soon-to-be sophomore said he knows how difficult school can be.
"I hope they have a great school year, and I hope the supplies help them out," he said. "I hope the program grows and is able to help more people."
Chavez said the back-to-school event is one of her favorite programs.
"As a mom, I understand the expense of supplies, and I know how hard backstretch workers work and how little they're paid," she said. "We love the industry, but we want the kids to do greater things.
"Every parent wants that for their child."