By Steve Robinson | August 4, 2019 - 10:20 pm
Posted in Category: District 87, News, The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – With the number of days in summer vacation dwindling down for students, getting kids ready for school is on the minds of many parents these days. And if all children were on a level playing field for the school year from the very first day, that, too, would benefit the children, their families, and their teachers. That level playing field means holding to the belief that all families could afford the supplies needed for a child’s routine school day. Sadly though, there are students who need a little help to accomplish this.

Those students in need to acquire those supplies will receive that help by attending a by invitation only “Back 2 School” Party, to be held at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington on Tuesday, Aug. 13 from 12 Noon-5p.m. Also, from 5p.m.-6p.m., an express line to pick up supplies will also be available.

The “Back 2 School” Party is jointly sponsored by the Back To School Alliance through Illinois Prairie Foundation in conjunction with Normal-based Unit 5 School District and Bloomington School District #87.

Students eligible to participate at this party are entering Kindergarten through 8th grade at either a Unit 5 or District #87 school, and qualify for a free or reduced lunch, as identified by the school, and have met all registration requirements for this coming school year. Those requirements include having physicals and immunizations prior to entering certain grades.

“In exchange for having the responsibilities regarding registration and health records current, we give the kids a free back pack with supplies to get the kids started on the year,” explained Jan Meadows, co-chair of the Back2School Alliance event, along with Taunia Leffler. Leffler is also a board member for Normal-based Unit 5 School District.

“Basically, on day one, we want everyone ready on the first day of school,” Meadows said of the event’s primary goal. A committee of 15 area residents work year-round toward the success of this event, Leffler added.

Children who fall within Federal guidelines concerning such things as reduced lunches are eligible to attend, but must have received an invitation where they registered to attend school. Students must bring the invitation with them to the event. Parents can check with school offices about obtaining the invitations, Meadows said. She said invites would have also come through daily mail to eligible families, as well.

Leffler said about 1,600 kids received backpacks filled with supplies for the child’s grade level last year. Meadows said the Alliance tries to maximize every dollar spent by taking advantage of sales for supplies stores advertise as the school year gets closer. She added the group takes in donations for supplies, too. Typically, Meadows said, those 1,600 are evenly divided per grade level at this event.

Leffler said the Alliance also takes monetary donations through Illinois Prairie Community Foundation which the Alliance uses for any needed purchases, as well. In addition, Back2Alliance has a link on its Facebook page which allows for monetary donations using PayPal.

In addition to the necessary supplies for students, parents and their kids can find out about groups or organizations of interest for kids. Leffler said representatives from both public libraries, Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, and other organizations will be present “to offer services to the kids.”

Leffler said there are still supplies the effort is in need of. She said those include: Pencils, composition notebooks, dry erase markers, and Post-It notes. “We know we are really in need of those things right now,” Leffler said.

Leffler and Meadows said there are a number of locations where supplies can be dropped off which the Alliance will pick up in time for the event. Those drop off locations include: HyVee, Wal-Mart in both Normal and Bloomington, Meijer in Normal, and Bloomington Public Library. In addition, such donations are being collected at both the main offices for both Unit 5 and Bloomington School District #87.

In addition to the Alliance’s own efforts, Meadows said, The Salvation Army has had collection boxes out in the community gathering supplies, as well. Meadows said this is the first year the Salvation Army has assisted in the Alliance’s effort. Another partnership the Alliance has forged for their effort is with Midwest Food Bank, which donated some space at its facility located at 2031 Warehouse Rd. in Normal for the Alliance to assemble backpacks. Leffler said this is the first year for that partnership.

“We really appreciate being able to store our supplies there year-round, but also use the space for our packing efforts,” Leffler said, adding the packing effort in preparation for the Aug. 13 event takes 300 volunteers. During the school year, Meadows added, Back2School Alliance also gets a helping hand from students enrolled in Vocational Transitional Assistance Program, (VTAP), which operates out of Eugene Field School.