Volunteers Aim to Pack 4,000 Backpacks for Bloomington-Normal Students

Reposted from The Pantagraph

Story and Photos by Connor Wood

NORMAL — Half a dozen volunteers kept busy Wednesday morning (July 6, 2022) packing backpacks with school supplies. Their goal is to pack 4,000 backpacks by mid-August, when families can pick up the bags before school starts.

“(4,000 bags) is about 60 percent of the need in Bloomington-Normal,” said organizer Jan Meadows.

The Back 2 School Alliance is planning a drive-through distribution event from noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 11 at the State Farm South parking garage. Families need to be enrolled at McLean County Unit 5 or Bloomington District 87, up to date on immunizations and qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Those interested in receiving supplies should contact their school office.

Colin Patterson, 10, works on organizing school supplies for the Back 2 School Alliance at Midwest Food Bank. He, along with his brother and mother, has been volunteering for the organization for about four years now.

The goal is to partner with families, Meadows said. Around one third of families in Unit 5 or District 87 qualify, but the organization can only help about three-fifths of those.

“We truly try to model not a handout, but a hand up,” she said.

On Wednesday morning at Midwest Food Bank, the volunteers were packing some of the backpacks, as well as organizing binders and other supplies to get them ready to give away.

Amber Patterson brought her sons Drake, 12, and Colin, 10. They have been coming for four years, she said.

Volunteering gives the boys something to do during the summer that doesn’t involve a screen and lets them give back to the community. The variety of tasks also helps with keeping the two boys occupied.

“It was enough to keep their attention, and (Meadows) was so gracious to let them come,” Amber Patterson said.

Becky Schaefer organizes folders for the Back 2 School Alliance on Thursday.

Becky Schaefer has been volunteering with the Back 2 School Alliance for five years now, she said. She also volunteers with the food bank.

“I’m always looking for some good things to do,” she said.

She retired from COUNTRY seven years ago and has tried to keep busy since then. Volunteering gives her a chance to give back and to meet people.

 “That’s the only think I missed since I retired, being around all the people,” she said.

This was Chris and Ryan Tamm’s first time volunteering. It seemed like a good way to give back, Chris Tamm said, and with the pandemic, he thinks there is a lot of need right now. The two plan to be back next year.

“They need a lot of (supplies), unfortunately, there’s a lot of need,” he said.

Schaefer said that she and other retired people are her church are looking to volunteer at schools next school year as well.

Chris Tamm tosses an empty box while helping pack backpacks with school supplies for the Back 2 School Alliance at Midwest Food Bank on Thursday.

The supplies are specific to grade level, Meadows said. Those interested in giving will find donation boxes at a number of businesses around the community. Instructions can be found on the organization’s website at back2schoolalliance.org.

Checks can be sent to the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, 915 E. Washington St., Ste. 2, Bloomington, with “backpacks” in the memo line, Meadows said.

This year the organization is adding 350 backpacks for high school students, Meadows said. That is in addition to the 4,000 for younger grades.

There are also some upcoming community events that will benefit the organization, Meadows said. That includes a drive for monetary and supply donations at the Normal Walmart on July 24 and Denny’s Doughnuts donating proceeds from doughnut sales on July 16.

Illinois Prairie Community Foundation serves as fiscal sponsor for Back 2 School Alliance. If you would like to support the fund’s mission, donate online.

Top Photo Caption: Volunteers sort pens and folders at Midwest Food Bank for Back 2 School Alliance on Wednesday.