Auto workers donate food, supplies to elementary students

About 25 Farmers Insurance agents and employees teamed up with members of the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 88 recently to feed more than 600 students and staff at Whitney Elementary, an at-risk school located on Tropicana Avenue and Boulder Highway.

Members of the hearty group arrived as early as 5 a.m. to make breakfast and prepare to distribute more than 600 backpacks that included hygienic items, including toothpaste and toothbrushes. Seventy-five pounds of pancake mix, 12 gallons of syrup and 700 individual juice boxes were brought to the school for the breakfast that was wildly received by students who lined up outside before packing Whitney’s multipurpose room.

Among members of the automotive industry present were Nevada Assemblyman Mark Manendo, the assistant director of client services for Collision Authority at 5935 S. Polaris Ave.; and Henderson businessman Bobby Ellis of SNAP Towing, a major donor to the school.

Volunteers from Farmers donated $2,000 to Whitney Principal Sherrie Gahn. The company also donated additional clothing, toothpaste and 500 toothbrushes

Gahn, whose efforts to improve Whitney Elementary have been widely recognized, said the breakfast was especially important to the students since many of them don’t receive a meal to start the day. Many of the students at Whitney are homeless or near-homeless and some live in homes without utilities.

Randy Soltero, the director of organizing for the Sheet Metal Workers, said he learned of the fundraiser through Greg Esposito of the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union. Esposito told Soltero there was a need for a giant barbecue owned by the sheet metal workers and before long, a teamwork effort on behalf of the sheet metal workers along with Farmers Insurance created a heart-warming event to help needy students.

"I didn’t know anything about Whitney Elementary," said Soltero, a 47-year-old native of Las Vegas who graduated from Bishop Gorman High School. "We try to get involved in community events, and I honestly cannot imagine a better cause than the students at Whitney. It’s really nice to see all the smiling faces. The people of Farmers Insurance are the heroes."

Ellis, who is a long-time donor to the school, concurred.

"I am so impressed with these kids," said Ellis, adding that he received more than 600 thank you cards from the students. "They are so courteous and well-mannered and what is so interesting is that the majority of them don’t have anything. They’re so grateful when someone offers them a helping hand."

The event attracted so many students that members of the Farmers team had to secure more food to meet the demand.

Steve Brown, executive director for Farmers Insurance in Nevada, lauded the event, adding that Farmers would help the school in the future.

"This is wonderful,’ said Brown. "We’re so happy to be part of such a terrific event to help the students of Whitney."

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