Elgin Community College's eighth annual Project Backpack giveaway benefiting students in need is Saturday at the college.
More than 2,000 backpacks were collected for last year's event, with 1,300 distributed to local families. The community-based initiative on Aug. 12 this year serves students who live within the boundaries of or are enrolled in classes from kindergarten through college this fall at Elgin Area School District U-46, Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, ECC and any school district within the college's footprint.
Almost 1,100 backpacks went to U-46 students last year, and the remaining 200 went to students in District 300, St. Charles Unit 303, Burlington-based Central Unit District 301, and Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, said Amybeth Maurer, ECC director of orientation and Student Life.
"We did not have to turn people away," she said. "It's wonderful that the majority is from U-46, but we know the reach is greater than that."
About 40,000 students within U-46 and District 300 qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Maurer said the number of backpacks distributed have dropped over the past couple of years since District 300 began its "Stuff the Bus" school supplies drive.
"We found that families from District 300 sometimes have a hard time getting to ECC, but once they started to find something closer to their area we saw our numbers go down a little bit," Maurer said.
Roughly 800 backpacks were left over from last year's drive. Organizers have more than 1,600 backpacks total this year and are expecting 1,500 families to come through.
"We usually have between 2,500 and 3,000 people here," Maurer said. "For that reason, we have expanded it a little bit this year to make it more family-friendly."
A balloon artist and face painter will keep children entertained as families wait in line to pick up backpacks. Families also will be able to explore a new Pace bus parked on site, meet with an Elgin Police Department canine officer, and get free basic vision screening done by employees of America's Best.
"We have families coming and lining up as early as the night before," Maurer said. "Our whole goal really was, if you're going to have to wait for a backpack, let's try to make this an environment where you can learn more, do more, where kids could be engaged."
Any backpacks with supplies leftover might be delivered to schools midyear, if there is a need for replacements, she said.
More than 16,000 students have been helped since the program began in 2010. Donations of supplies typically come from individuals, businesses, churches and community organizations.
"The community is so generous," Maurer said. "Our donations reach beyond (Elgin Community College) District 509."
Backpacks will be distributed first-come, first-served from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Building J Spartan Events Center, 1700 Spartan Drive. There is a limit of one backpack per student.
For more information, call the ECC Student Life Office at (847) 214-7370 or visit project-backpack.org. For information in Spanish, call (847) 888-5000, ext. 4211.
Backpack: More than 16,000 helped since 2010