As back-to-school shopping goes, picking out the perfect backpack is tops on many students' list. But not every family can afford one -- even in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200.
With the help of other service groups and businesses, the Wheaton Rotary Club has purchased 1,700 backpacks for kids in need to ensure every student has a backpack full of supplies when school starts on Wednesday.
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In turn, the Wheaton Rotary will provide 1,200 backpacks to the Humanitarian Service Project, 300 to the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce's Backpack Drive, and 80 to the churches of Warrenville.
The remaining 120 backpacks will be kept on reserve to ensure any students coming in the middle of the year will have a new backpack as well.
Thursday night about 35 members of the rotary club, chamber of commerce, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 and community volunteers gathered at Wheaton's Arrowhead Golf Club to fill more than 300 backpacks with supplies donated from the local businesses.
Lori Belha, president of the Rotary Club of Wheaton and a retired teacher and administrator in the district, said starting the year off right with all of the necessary supplies is crucial for a young student's education.
"As a teacher, you're looking out at 25 young faces and you want them all to have a level playing field," she said Thursday. "There is nothing more disheartening than watching some students arrive with backpacks and pencils while others arrive empty-handed. We want all of our kids to be happy and we want them to learn so we're doing what we can."
District 200 spokeswoman Erica Loiacono said the program, now in its fourth year, is an opportunity to engage local businesses in the district's mission and to educate the public about their students.
"Roughly 25 percent of the students in our district receive free or reduced lunch. That means our families are living at or below the federal poverty line our community and that's something that a lot of people are not aware of," Loiacono said. "We want to bring light to that but also make sure every student starts the school year off right."
Belha said, once the backpacks are stuffed, they will be delivered to district schools where social workers and principals will ensure they get to the students most in need.
The Rotary Club of Wheaton meets at 12:10 p.m. Wednesdays at Arrowhead Golf Club on Butterfield in Wheaton.