Every year when school registration rolls around, the Salvation Army of Champaign County receives calls about whether the organization hands out school supplies.
And every year previous to this one, it had to forward those calls along to other organizations and churches in town.
This year, the Salvation Army decided to put together their own backpack drive, and on Tuesday, volunteers packed 700 of them with school supplies, both for elementary students and high-schoolers.
“This year, we decided that we would do it because we’ve done it in the past in other places, and we knew how to organize it,” Major Randall Summit said. “We cooperated with Walmart and did the school-supply drive Saturday, so now we’re filling all the bags. There’s a lot of need, and we just want to make sure we’re there for them.”
To receive a backpack, parents just have to verify that they live in Champaign County and that they have children in K-12 school. The backpacks will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Friday, while supplies last.
“We’ve had a lot of people inquiring about this,” said Al Vogelsang, chairman of the organization’s advisory board. “Trust me, they’ll be lining up to come. It’ll be really popular.”
To acquire the school supplies, Salvation Army employees and volunteers set up shop at cooperating Walmart stores in the area and handed out lists of supplies to customers.
“We asked customers, ‘Would you help us serve children who are in need of school supplies?’” said Robin Mathis, the organization’s director of social services. “I said, ‘Anything off of that checklist will help.’
And so they would come back with the stuff in the bags.
“The response was awesome. The generosity is still there out in the community, and we just began to reach out. We were not dissatisfied about how they gave at all. We were there from 8:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night.”
The bags will also include hygienic items — toothpaste, toothbrushes, body wash, deodorant.
“A lot of times, kids may have their backpacks and everything,” Mathis said, “and there may be a need of them having even shampoo to wash their hair and even toothpaste and toothbrushes so that they can go to school feeling good about themselves and about their hygiene.”
In conjunction with the giveaway, the Salvation Army will be discounting children’s clothing in the thrift store (where bags will be given away) by 50 percent.
After Friday, Summit said teachers are welcome to come and take the leftover supplies for their classrooms.
He doesn’t expect much to be left, though.
Today through Friday is “going to be busy,” he said. “We just want to make sure that as many kids as possible can be helped.”