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BACK-TO-SCHOOL SPECIAL KIDS GET $100 VOUCHERS FROM MERVYN'S CHILDSPREE BACK-TO-SCHOOL EVENT.

Byline: JASON KANDEL Valley News Staff Writer

It was like Christmas in August for scores of underprivileged San Fernando Valley kids, who each got $100 vouchers plus an additional 25 percent off for back-to-school clothes and supplies earlier this month as part of Mervyn's 14th annual ChildSpree event.

From Burbank to Glendale, Canoga Park to Sun Valley, boys and girls of all ages -- volunteer chaperones in tow -- marched through Mervyn's store aisles and picked through pants, shirts and backpacks during this annual rite of passage.

Rishabh Chadha had places to go and people to see. He wants to look sharp for the start of fourth grade next week at Walt Disney Elementary School in Burbank.

``I can't wait to go to school,'' said Rishabh, one of scores of Valley children who received vouchers for back-to-school clothes and supplies at the Aug. 5 event. ``It's fun. I like math.''

Rishabh, his friend Zachary Burke, 8, and their volunteer chaperone, Virginia Hough, 60, perused the aisles for clothes at the Burbank Mervyn's.

Hough was part of a volunteer contingent from Disney who came out to the early-morning shopping spree.

``It benefits the kids,'' she said. ``They need that extra help to lead them in the right direction.''

Zachary bought two pairs of uniform shorts, a pair of slacks and three shirts in white, navy blue and red. He also got two sweat shirts and two colored T-shirts.

Chaperones were required to make sure the kids got at least one outfit appropriate for school. But Rishabh wanted a jacket, the kind you wear ``when you go to parties,'' he told Hough.

``Do you mean a blazer?'' Hough asked.

``For Rishabh, a suit was important,'' Hough said. ``I thought it was very cute and very funny. It was the total focus of Rishabh's shopping. I got him the blazer.''

Rishabh also found a pair of slacks he could wear with the blazer, a second pair of slacks, four colored T-shirts, boxer shorts and socks.

Helping arrange the Burbank event was Anna Ayala, the membership director for the Burbank Boys & Girls Club. She has been helping organize the Burbank ChildSpree for a decade. And she wishes she could help even more children.

``People think there's no need in Burbank,'' she said. ``And there is. Rent here is high. So parents have to pick between the rent or shoes or clothes for kids.''

Susan Gould, 42, a volunteer chaperone from her temple, Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, and her twin 12-year-old children, Adam and Joanna, helped out at ChildSpree at the Canoga Park store.

It was Joanna's first year volunteering.

``There were ... a lot of kids, and they wanted ... clothes for back to school because they don't have a lot of stuff,'' Joanna said. ``Some of their families don't have a lot of money.

``I want to do it again next year. It makes me feel really good. It makes me happy that you made someone else happy and that they have stuff that they didn't have before.''

Joanna's mother was drawn by the spirit of helping out people in need.

``The faces -- when you see them smiling, a lot of these kids have been abused,'' she said. ``Poverty-stricken families. When I saw how it touched them, I said, `Oh, my God. This is the most worthwhile thing I have ever done.

``It's a privilege for us to be able to make a difference.''

At the Sun Valley store, Christian Vasquez, 7, picked out a pair of pants, shorts, two T-shirts, underwear, socks and a backpack. He starts the second grade Aug. 30 at Coldwater Canyon Elementary School in North Hollywood.

His story was heartwrenching. An electrical fire gutted his family's apartment April 14, forcing them to seek temporary shelter with help from the American Red Cross.

``The truth is, our lives changed a lot,'' said Christian's mother, Rosa Magos, a nursing assistant who has four kids and who has since relocated to an apartment in Van Nuys.

``It's really difficult right now. Everything burned. All we had left was the clothes on our back. We had to start all over.''

CAPTION(S):

5 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 5 -- color) CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Twenty-five children combed through new duds at the Burbank store during the 14th annual Mervyn's ChildSpree event. Alexis Holland and Cayla Putonen get help from Cayla's father, Chris Putonen, finishing their shopping spree at the Burbank Mervyn's. Linda Hernandez shows off her new backpack at the Northridge Mervyn's after ChildSpree. Miguel Rodriguez, with his chaperone Erwin Vertlieb, does some shopping at the Sun Valley Mervyn's store. Outside the Canoga Park Mervyn's, chaperones Danny Thornburg, Pat Ferrin, Sandra Thornburg, Shirley Thomson and Lovette Panthier stand behind Chase Cullors, Yolanda Carranza and Victor Carranza and their bags full of clothes and supplies. Miguel Rodriguez, with his chaperone Erwin Vertlieb, gets ready to do some shopping at the Sun Valley Mervyn's store.

Jason Kandel/Valley News

Jack Witt/Special to the Valley News

Jaime Rothstein/Special to the Valley News
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Title Annotation:Valley News
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 23, 2006
Words:833
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