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updated: 8/7/2014 6:05 PM

Back-to-School Fair helps DuPage families in need

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  • Tables full of books were available for children to choose from during Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park.

       Tables full of books were available for children to choose from during Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • A variety of books were available for kids and teens to choose from during the Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair in Villa Park.

       A variety of books were available for kids and teens to choose from during the Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair in Villa Park.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Sawdah Shariff of Glen Ellyn gets a free haircut from student Kaitlyn Wessel during the Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair.

       Sawdah Shariff of Glen Ellyn gets a free haircut from student Kaitlyn Wessel during the Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Laugian, Benjamin and their mother, Mamal Salama, pick up free backpacks during Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair for DuPage County families in need at the Odeum Sports & Expo Center in Villa Park.

       Laugian, Benjamin and their mother, Mamal Salama, pick up free backpacks during Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair for DuPage County families in need at the Odeum Sports & Expo Center in Villa Park.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Miguel Ochoa, 14, of Addison gets a dental checkup from fourth-year dental student Bryce Larson during Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair.

       Miguel Ochoa, 14, of Addison gets a dental checkup from fourth-year dental student Bryce Larson during Catholic Charities' Back to School Fair.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Jose Herrera, 11, of Bensenville gets his eyes checked for school.

       Jose Herrera, 11, of Bensenville gets his eyes checked for school.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Back to School Fair

 
By Safiya Merchant
smerchant@dailyherald.com

Times are tough for Tiffany Harrison.

The Villa Park mom recently was injured at work, she says, so there's no money coming in. That's always stressful, but even more so with the approaching start of school.

Luckily for Harrison, a Back-to-School Fair this week lifted some of the financial weight off her shoulders.

She attended the fair, organized by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Joliet, at the Odeum Sports & Expo Center in Villa Park, with her 10-year-old daughter and her neighbor's daughter.

The fair, which provided school supplies and free information and services for families in need, came at the perfect time.

School supplies "tend to be expensive," Harrison said, "and when you're talking about no kind of money coming in, no kind of income coming in, you have to choose between school supplies or gas or food and everything like that, so this is really helping."

There were hundreds of parents and kids in similar situations who attended the fair.

Qualified students could receive free backpacks, books and food along with other services, including free haircuts, dental exams and vision screenings.

Parents also could take advantage of dental services, and families could get free cellphones, said Amy Palumbo, DuPage director of community services for Catholic Charities.

Participants also were invited to visit tables set up by organizations to collect information from groups such as HOPE Fair Housing Center and Metropolitan Family Services.

Palumbo said the fair is a venue to "try to provide a one-stop shop to get kids ready for school."

Last year, 4,560 people attended the DuPage fair.

Westmont resident Shawanda Davis was at this week's event with her 6-year-old daughter. Recently laid off, Davis said she wanted to see what types of employment resources were available.

Like Davis, lack of employment poses a financial obstacle for parent Pam Karuhn of Villa Park, who said she is on disability and her husband lost his job months ago.

"I need help with the school supplies," Karuhn said.

One of the service providers was the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which gave bags of food to kids and apples to attendees.

Lisa Scott, manager of network partner relations for the food bank, said the bags contained food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks. They also included information on how to use the agency's website to find a local food pantry.

"We're trying to help a little bit with a little offering of food right now," she said, "but also to connect them with the resources."

Harrison said this was the first time she attended the fair.

"I think it's a great thing," she said, "and I would tell all of my neighbors and friends to come to it next year."

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