Esthlia Hunt couldn’t afford her kids’ school supplies while she lived on the East Side.
That was more than 20 years ago. Now, Hunt, 53, lives in Amherst and has a decent-paying job. Her three children have gone on to college and made lives for themselves.
But she hasn’t forgotten the struggle. Her heart is still in the East Side.
And Tuesday afternoon, for the fifth year in a row, she headed back to her former community to hand out backpacks and school supplies that she purchased mostly out of her own pocket on the corner of Kensington and Bailey avenues.
She calls the day “Backpack Splash.”
“I was out there. I was a mother with two girls, I could barely make it, I lived in the projects, I lived on welfare,” said Hunt, a Time Warner Cable customer service representative and church school teacher at Miracle Missions Full Gospel Church. “I know in my heart of hearts that this is helping someone. This is making some family a little bit better than they were yesterday.”
Hunt bought 425 backpacks, each stuffed with school supplies and a box of cereal. This year, unlike the past four years, she asked her family and friends for financial help and raised about $400. She personally spent about $1,100.
And the day isn’t just a splash of backpacks and school supplies. The most important thing Hunt hands out is a sense of positivity that she hopes spreads into students’ homes throughout the East Side and other parts of the city.
“There are many things that are happening that should not happen in the community – your shootings, your drugs,” she said. “You just want to put a new spin on it. And that’s why I do what I do. It starts with our kids. I want our kids to be hopeful.”
For students in kindergarten through fourth grade, Hunt offered a composition notebook, two folders, crayons, a glue stick and index cards. For students in fifth through 12th grade, she gave out three-ring binders, loose-leaf paper, index cards and one spiral notebook, folder, pen, pencil, pencil sharpener, large eraser, highlighter and ruler. This year, she also offered about 100 T-shirts and pairs of socks.
The Buffalo Public Schools start classes Thursday. Hunt hopes when the students she helped walk in armed with supplies, they can focus on their studies, not what’s going on at home or on the streets. Maybe that way, they can also focus on their dreams.
Tuesday afternoon, Hunt’s best friends – Patricia Knight-Bryant, Charlotte Gill and Beverly Knight – helped her hand out the backpacks.
Hunt credits her husband, William Hunt IV, for supporting her and never questioning why she invests so much time and money into area children who aren’t her own.
In many ways, the inner-city youth are just like her kids. She relates to them, as she grew up on the East Side herself and began to raise her family there.
Though rain was in the forecast for Tuesday, Hunt was confident the sun would come out at 1 p.m. And it did.
“This is always what happens,” she said. “The sun comes out. It will be nice bright and shiny, and it will stay that way. This is really an inspiration for me.”