Elgin Community College and its partners will give away thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies and food to students in need Saturday during the college's fifth annual Project Backpack.
The community-based initiative from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in is Building J of the Spartan Event Center at 1700 Spartan Drive.
Roughly 5,000 people lined up for the event last year when the college gave away more than 2,000 backpacks.
Officials don't know how large the demand will be this year or exactly how many backpacks will be available to give away.
"We're still getting a lot of donations in, so we won't be able to know until the day of the event," said Katie Storey, ECC's student life coordinator.
Storey said the college has distributed more than 7,000 backpacks filled with supplies to families in need since 2010. Donations come from individuals, businesses, churches and community organizations.
"It really is truly a community effort," Storey said. "We try to give as much as we are able based on the community donations. There is still a great need (within) the school districts in our area, between homeless students and the students in need (eligible for the National School Lunch Program). There are hundreds to thousands within ECC's district, homeless populations, students who are on the school lunch program, parents losing their jobs ... there's going to continue to be a need in some way or another."
The Northern Illinois Food Bank is partnering with ECC again this year to supply 3,000 backpacks of nonperishable food items to individual students in need.
"We did 3,000 last year as well," said Donna Lake, food bank spokeswoman. "We are involved simply because we are committed to making sure that no child goes hungry."
Each backpack will have enough food to fulfill a student's breakfast, lunch, supper and snack needs for a day.
"It's kid-friendly, nutritious food, including fresh produce," Lake said.
Lake said families are juggling a lot of expenses within a limited budget when students return to school.
"There's school supplies, back-to-school clothing, (school) registration fees, extracurricular fees ... all of that are additional expenses that add up and take away from the food budget," she said. "When your budget is already stretched, it's that much harder to take care of basic nutritional needs. Food is the last thing that they think of. We know that our pantry is being used more when school starts. (Project Backpack) makes a real difference in the lives of people who are strapped and maybe living paycheck-to-paycheck."
Northern Illinois Food Bank provides meals to more than 60,000 people each week through a network of 800 partner food pantries and feeding programs across 13 counties.
"We're relying on the community's support to help us provide food on a weekly basis to all of the food pantries, soup kitchens youth and senior programs," Lake said.
If more than 3,000 children show up Saturday for the backpacks, she said, they will be referred to area food pantries to get help on a continuous basis. Any student living within ECC's district attending public or private schools is eligible for the backpacks. Supplies and backpacks are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to students who provide proof of residency or school enrollment in Community Unit District 300, Elgin Area School District U-46, ECC, St. Charles Unit District 303, and Burlington-Central School District 301 for fall 2014, with a limit of one backpack per student.
A range of community agencies and services also will be available at the event to help families in need.
"We're just fortunate that we're continuing to be able to raise awareness," Storey said. "We just hope to keep raising the number of backpacks year after year ... reach a lot of students and needy families and hopefully they have a great start to the school year."
For details, visit project-backpack.org.