DuPage groups work to provide school supplies for families in need

 
 
Updated 8/19/2011 3:43 PM
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  • Patty Kottke and her son, Lance, 7, drop off a bag of school supplies during the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce and Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200's Back to School Ice Cream Social, which collected supplies for needy families.

      Patty Kottke and her son, Lance, 7, drop off a bag of school supplies during the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce and Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200's Back to School Ice Cream Social, which collected supplies for needy families. MARCO SANTANA | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton Chamber of Commerce Community Relations Committee member Danielle Jencks packs supplies during a school supply drive at Whittier Elementary School. The drive, one of several throughout DuPage County, collected nearly 350 backpacks and about $519 in donations to buy school supplies for needy families.

      Wheaton Chamber of Commerce Community Relations Committee member Danielle Jencks packs supplies during a school supply drive at Whittier Elementary School. The drive, one of several throughout DuPage County, collected nearly 350 backpacks and about $519 in donations to buy school supplies for needy families. MARCO SANTANA | Staff Photographer

The new school year brings a seemingly endless string of positives for children.

They get excited to learn new things and meet new teachers. They renew old friendships after a summer scattered throughout the area.

After mini-shopping sprees, many students eagerly await a chance to show off their new fashions.

However, for an increasing number of children in DuPage County, it also brings with it the fear of showing up without even the most basic necessities, such as school supplies. But many of the county's school districts and charitable organizations hope to ease that fear for as many children as they can.

Supplies 4 Success founder Karen Evans, whose organization buys supplies and winterwear for low-income children in Glen Ellyn elementary schools, said the effort helps those students realize they are not alone.

"It's important to them, and it shows the community thinks their education is important," Evans said. "It sends a good message."

That message is being sent by more and more organizations this month. The DuPage Regional Office of Education and Catholic Charities started August with a large event at the DuPage County Fairgrounds that distributed around 1,800 backpacks filled with school supplies to income-eligible families of students in need. The agencies also partnered with roughly 60 area businesses to offer those families school physicals, haircuts and other services.

State Rep. Darlene Senger accepted school supply donations at her Naperville office. Carol Stream-based Humanitarian Service Project continually accepts the donations and distributes supplies to DuPage and Kane County families.

Even individual school districts are getting in on the act, with Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 teaming with the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce to host its first drive during an ice cream social at Whittier Elementary School Aug. 10.

The event collected 350 backpacks full of school supplies and $519 in donations. About 25 percent of the students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunches and the supplies will go to those families.

Social work department chairwoman Donna Kozica said the kits help a student's confidence.

"They feel good about themselves when they walk in with a new backpack, new crayons," she said. "It gets them off on the right foot."

According to the 2009 American Community Survey, nearly 60,000 people in DuPage County live below the poverty line. That was a 14 percent jump over the previous year.

The increased numbers have strained organizations that continue to try to provide help for such families.

Catholic Charities community resource coordinator Mary Tarnow said the crowds she sees at the fairgrounds for the school supply event changes from year to year. Providing guidance and getting the family on the right track usually helps the students as much as distributing school supplies, she said.

"There are a lot of families we see each year, but there are just so many new families," she said. "Some have no clue how to navigate the social service geography of the county."

As a former teacher at Westlake Middle School in Lombard, Tarnow said she remembers seeing students show up without the required school supplies.

She said it is encouraging to see so many organizations work together to make those children more comfortable on the first day. However, she warns her agency cannot do it alone.

"We are just one little piece of the puzzle," she said. "The family also has to be behind (students') success."