BLOOMINGTON — Stripes or spots; purple or green; multicolored or solid; canvas or nylon — Bloomington-Normal students had plenty of backpacks to choose from Wednesday as they geared up for the first day of school.
Five-year-old Avery Neal said she was excited to start school when she picked out a sequin bag, filled with all the supplies she’ll need for kindergarten at Sheridan Elementary School.
She and 4,000 other students were invited to the annual Back 2 School Alliance school supply giveaway, which made its temporary home on Wednesday at State Farm Corporate South, using a parking deck for a drive-thru instead of the traditional party held at Grossinger Motors Arena.
Making her way through the line with her kids and bringing along her best friend’s kids, Nikole Runyon of Bloomington said the giveaway was “very helpful” to her family as they prepare for the school year.
Jordynn Wilson, 13, said she’s most excited about “seeing my friends again and meeting the teachers,” as she starts eighth grade at Parkside Junior High.
In her first school supply giveaway, Guille Delgado, principal at Bent Elementary, said she was glad to have the opportunity to meet families as they came in to pick up their backpacks and help those who needed a Spanish translator.
“I’m excited. It’s really nice to see familiar faces,” she said, starting her second year as principal. “I had some kids waving at me, so that makes me feel really good that they’re like, ‘Hey, Mrs. Delgado.’ It’s really nice to reconnect and start those relationships with our families.”
Lynn Shook, principal at Stevenson, said every year this event feels like the real kick-off for the school year.
“It feels good to be able to know that kids are able to start the year out with some supplies and get them feeling ready for school, too,” she said, as this helps them get ready “mentally and emotionally for the start of the year, so I love that.”
The event was open to McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 students from pre-K to eighth grade who were registered for school, up to date with immunizations and qualified for free or reduced lunches.
These conditions are added because the Back 2 School Alliance motto is “Ready on day one.”
“We believe it’s important for all students to be ready on day one and come in with confidence, to have the things that they need, and we rely on our parents to be partners in this,” said Jan Meadows, chairwoman of the Back 2 School Alliance. Parents have to make sure their students are registered and have updated records, “because otherwise they get sent home on the first day, and we don’t want our kids to miss out on all of that.”
Kristen Weikle, superintendent at Unit 5, said she appreciated the Back 2 School Alliance helping students so they “have school supplies, backpacks, so not only are they prepared, but they’re excited, too. There’s nothing like a new backpack to start the school year off.”
“That’s the best part, is to see the smiles.”
First Student and Connect Transit helped to ensure qualifying families could attend even if they didn’t have their own vehicles.
“The buses were set up because it might be difficult for people to find the location. So it’s been helpful to the families that rode and they’ve been very appreciative, so it’s worked out good,” said Meta Mickens-Baker, a former Unit 5 school board member volunteering with the alliance.
She said they try to make the kids happy and give them the chance to pick which backpacks they want because “the goal is for them to go to school ready and to be excited about going back to school.”
About 100 volunteers, including Illinois State University student teachers, State Farm and Country Financial employees and other community members, helped to distribute bags for eight hours.
“It’s always good for the community,” said Chris Graning of Bloomington, volunteering for the first time this year. “Got to meet some nice people, hang out and do something good.”
Photos: Back 2 School Alliance school supply distribution a hit with families
Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.