Backpacks are de rigueur at Strawberry Elementary School in Bennett Valley, not as fashion statements but for daylong toting the accoutrements of education.
So fifth-grader Ryan Caparros, 11, was struck by the absence of backpacks at a bare-bones school in Liberia, a provincial capital in northwest Costa Rica, which he visited with his father, Rudy, in July.
The idea, Ryan said, was “to show me how fortunate I was.”
It worked to the point that Ryan — after spending time with students in the school with cinder block walls, concrete floors and beat-up desks — pledged to return this spring with 50 backpacks.
“Nothing pretty about it,” Rudy Caparros said, describing the impoverished barrio school called Escuela Pueblo Nuevo.
Their act of charity was nearly derailed by plain old American thievery a week ago, but is now on back on track thanks to a turn of events, including a boost from social media and a Central Valley connection that transported the Caparros family from dismay to sheer delight.
“We were overwhelmed,” said Ryan’s mother, Corrine, expressing wonder over the generosity of “people who don’t know us.”
This month, the family plans to head back to Liberia to more than make good on Ryan’s promise. Ryan’s initial foray into philanthropy netted about 350 new and used backpacks donated mostly by his Strawberry schoolmates, bolstered by Rudy’s promise of a pizza party for the class with the most donations.
The backpacks were tucked in four black plastic garbage bags stowed in the back of Rudy’s Lincoln Navigator when he dined in San Francisco Feb. 17. It was only when he took them to be cleaned the next day, he discovered three of bags missing, presumably stolen by someone who broke into his SUV. Only 50 backpacks remained.
“We were all just sick,” said his sister Gianna, 16, a junior at Santa Rosa High.
The family was reluctant to hit up Strawberry students again, so they initially planned to appeal for backpacks at nearby schools.
Corrine posted what happened on Facebook, and Laurie Diamant, a longtime friend in Visalia, revised the message on her own Facebook page after talking on the phone with the family Feb. 20.
“He has such a big heart for people,” Diamant said, referring to Ryan.
Her post was picked up on a Visalia community Facebook page, and within two hours Diamant had nearly $700 in cash pledges, largely from strangers. Diamant said Monday she had sent $670 to the Caparroses, and has 45 donated backpacks ready to send, as well.
“It wasn’t important to (the donors) that it wasn’t a Visalia kid doing this,” Diamant said.
The president of Corrine’s employer, San Jose-based BrandVia Alliance, donated 50 backpacks, and a company supplier contributed 40 more.
Guests at Ryan’s birthday party Saturday brought 11 more, bringing the total to more than 200 backpacks and $750 cash.
Corrine said Monday the family expects to reach its goal of 350 backpacks. They leave for Costa Rica soon, and their hotel in Papagayo has agreed to transport the largess to Liberia.
Reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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