DeKALB – Kenny Arwood of Aurora and Alex Walker of Sycamore worried about how they were going to afford school supplies for their three children before they heard about the Back to School Bash sponsored by New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.
Arwood and Walker were one of the first families in line for the seventh annual Back to School Bash on Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Sports and Recreation Center in DeKalb. The line to enter the event started before 8 a.m., even though the doors opened at 11 a.m.
“We’re a low-income family, and an event like this definitely helps to make sure our kids have school supplies,” Arwood said. “It’s a great feeling to know that they’ll be starting school with brand new supplies, just like everyone else.”
This year, 1,010 backpacks full of school supplies were handed out at the event. The backpacks included paper, notebooks, rulers, pencils, crayons, a ruler, a pencil pouch, a lanyard and more – everything a student would need for their first day at school. Each backpack and its contents were worth $40 to $45.
All items were brand new and donated by members of the church and the community. The church collects school supplies year-round to fill the backpacks.
Treveda Redmond, head of the church’s committee for the event, said the bash is “a way to give back to the community as a labor of love.”
Redmond, a former teacher in the DeKalb School District for 14 years, is now a principal at Kennedy Middle School in Rockford.
“A lot of families struggle to afford school supplies,” Redmond said. “I’ve seen kids show up to school on the first day without any supplies. The backpack and supplies we hand out help take away from the cost of a new school year.”
In addition to the backpacks, children also could pick up books, extra school supplies such as pencils and notebooks, play games and register for community resources through local organizations, including the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic, the DeKalb Park District, the DeKalb Public Library and 4-C: Community Coordinated Child Care.
Each school in DeKalb School District 428 had a booth where students and parents could meet with teachers and principals. There also was a free hot dog lunch and Northern Illinois Food Bank distributed food.
The first Back to School Bash took place outside University Village in 2013.
“We had about 300 backpacks, and we quickly ran out,” Redmond said. “The next year, we had 500, and people were still walking away without a backpack. Now our goal is to meet or exceed 1,000 backpacks each year.”
Amonaquenette Parker, principal of Huntley Middle School, said that having the right supplies is “essential to students’ progress in school.”
“If students don’t have a pencil or ruler at home to complete their homework, they’re already behind their peers,” Parker said. “School supplies are just as important as texbooks. Having new supplies affects a child’s mindfulness. They can come to school prepared and ready to learn with the concept that education is important.”
Parker said that every day a student comes to school without the supplies they need.
“Sometimes, it’s not having a pen or pencil, sometimes, they don’t have a backpack,” Parker said. “It’s why events like this are so important and so necessary in our community.”
Jayaunna Young has been coming to the Back to School Bash for five years to receive school supplies for her two children.
“It really helps because I’m a stay-at-home mom of two with another baby on the way,” Young said. “We appreciate it, everything they do. It is a great help to the community.”
Jim Bailey, a minister at New Hope, said he volunteers because “it’s just what the church does.” He referred to Luke 6:38 which states, “Give, and it will be given [back] to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”
“We want to help the community and see people succeed,” Bailey said. “These young people are our future. Without school supplies, they can’t succeed, so we help them get the supplies they need.”
Latisha Newman, treasurer at New Hope, has been volunteering with the event since it began seven years ago.
“I’m a mom and came from a family that didn’t have much, so I understand the struggle,” Newman said. “I know that every little bit helps. It’s more than school supplies and backpacks, it’s the value of giving back and helping people. It’s all about helping families with the resources they need in the community.”
Jennifer Groce, director of community promotion at Northern Illinois University, summed up the event with these words:
“It’s mostly saying, ‘We love, we care, and we hope you have a great school year.’ ”