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updated: 8/8/2012 3:07 PM

Back to School Fair provides help for students in need

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  • Hundreds line up Wednesday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton to attend Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair. "It gives them resources they might not otherwise have," said Deloris Walker, human resources coordinator with Catholic Charities.

       Hundreds line up Wednesday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton to attend Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair. "It gives them resources they might not otherwise have," said Deloris Walker, human resources coordinator with Catholic Charities.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Sofia Zitlal, 9, of Wheaton, tries on her new backpack loaded with school supplies as she and her brother Ryan, sister Angelina and mom Jessical Zitlal visit the Back to School Fair in Wheaton.

       Sofia Zitlal, 9, of Wheaton, tries on her new backpack loaded with school supplies as she and her brother Ryan, sister Angelina and mom Jessical Zitlal visit the Back to School Fair in Wheaton.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Rogan Packman, 5, of Lombard and Artubio Rubio, 13, of West Chicago get free hair cuts from cosmetology students Alejandro Vasquez and Alison Bednara of the Technology Center of DuPage.

       Rogan Packman, 5, of Lombard and Artubio Rubio, 13, of West Chicago get free hair cuts from cosmetology students Alejandro Vasquez and Alison Bednara of the Technology Center of DuPage.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
By Annalisa Rodriguez
arodriguez@dailyherald.com

Bettina Wendt simply can't afford the school supplies her five children require this year.

A few months ago, the Wheaton native was working part-time because a vein condition kept her from spending too much time on her feet.

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Then in May, she was forced to quit to stay home with her disabled son, who couldn't be left home alone with her other children.

Without Catholic Charities' annual Back to School Fair, Wendt said she couldn't provide everything her children need as they get ready to head back to classes.

"It's very difficult and kind of embarrassing at times," she said. "I'm just glad they have this fair and they continue to year after year."

The Back to School event returned Wednesday to the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton, where low-income families could pick up school supplies for their children and browse among roughly 70 vendors who provided information on service agencies and community resources.

"Catholic Charities started out as a child-welfare agency, so one of our biggest focuses is to be a part of the community and make sure we're assisting those greatest in need," said Deloris Walker, the group's human resources coordinator. "It's important for us to give back to the community and to have that positive association in the community."

The DuPage County Health Department offered students dental, vision and hearing screenings.

"The mission of the health department is to provide prevention and services for those that maybe can't get them otherwise," health promotions specialist Jorie Green said. "We're one of the healthiest counties in the state, and we have a lot of services that other health departments don't."

DuPage is a rich county, Green said, but there are still a lot of people hurting and the health department is filling in those gaps.

Being at the fair allows the department to put a friendly face and name behind government assistance.

"I think a lot of people look at government as something scary," Green said. "We can relate to them here and we put them at ease. Sometimes they might be embarrassed about seeking government help."

Heather Sayre Jordan, representing Benedictine University in Lisle, offered parents information about pursuing a higher degree as they're thinking about their kids going back to school.

"We find a lot of parents don't feel like they have a lot of options in going back to school," she said. "We just want them to know there are options for them close by."

For those at the fair who were unemployed, Sayre Jordan spoke about the Illinois Back to Work program, which offers those who qualify the chance to work toward a college degree and have their full tuition covered.

"According to the Census Bureau, adding educational credentials adds opportunities to drastically increase income potential," Sayre Jordan said. "So making that education more accessible is really our goal."

David Mendez, an unemployed Bensenville father of four, said the fair makes the cost of school supplies and exams a little more manageable. Last year, he said, the fair saved him $300.

"I needed it," he said. "That's an extra $300 in your pocket."

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