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Alliance gets District 87 and Unit 5 children ready for school with backpack giveaway

People standing next to vehicles with backpacks placed off to the side for giveaway inside a parking garage.
State Farm
Volunteers from the Back to School Alliance, District 87 and Unit 5 handed out free backpacks at a distribution event on Tuesday Aug. 8, 2023 at State Farm Corporate South in Bloomington.

A non-profit based in Normal wants to ensure Unit 5 and District 87 students have what they need when they return to school next week.

The Back to School Alliance’s annual free distribution on Tuesday had more than 4,000 backpacks and school supplies available for students from low-income families.

Event chair Jan Meadows said the distribution aims to ensure students entering kindergarten through eighth grade come to school ready and able to learn.

“Building a sense of community, starting from day one, kindergarteners knowing they belong and their adjustment into school is critical for a success school year and the whole community benefits,” said Meadows, adding any backpacks not handed out during the event will be left with school administrators to distribute later in the school year as needed.

Two women wave at a passing car while one holds a sign that reads "Honk! to a great year."
State Farm
Representatives from Unit 5 and District 87 wave to vehicles driving by at the Back to School Alliance giveaway on Tuesday at State Farm Corporate South.

Valerie White is the older sister of Zoey Torres, who received a backpack at the drive-thru event at State Farm Corporate South in Bloomington. “We really needed the help and actually it was good experiencing all the new teachers and old teachers from different schools and the community to get together,” White said.

Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch at school can get a backpack. That’s about one-third of students in Bloomington-Normal, according to the alliance.

The annual distribution included a new feature this year — McLean County Health Department (MCHD) staff was there to make sure students get their updated immunizations before school starts.

“We always have families that unfortunately can’t return to school a few days after the school year starts because they haven’t gotten the required immunizations. And then they are scrambling, they are panicking, and they are coming to us,” said MCHD nutritionist Ashlyn Hayes. “We definitely wanted to be proactive this year.”

Meadows said the alliance collects backpacks and other school supply donations throughout the year, noting this year’s supply got a big boost of 1,000 free backpacks from a group that promotes organ donation in Illinois.

“It’s a year-round event and we take advantage of donations throughout the year and clearance prices in September as everything gets marked down as kids [get] back into school, and we are already packing for next year,” Meadows said.

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Megan Spoerlein is a reporting intern at WGLT. She started in 2023. Megan is also studying journalism at Illinois State University.
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