DuPage event helps students get needed back-to-school supplies

A good crowd came out for the DuPage County Back to School Fair on Aug. 6. | Hank Beckman/For Sun-Times Media
A good crowd came out for the DuPage County Back to School Fair on Aug. 6. | Hank Beckman/For Sun-Times Media

Catholic Charities, partnering with the DuPage Regional Office of Education, held its 24th annual Back to School Fair Aug. 6.

DuPage resident Ann McCord appreciated the effort to help people in need.

“We got a flyer and I thought it would be a great experience,” she said with her two elementary school children nearby.

The fair, held again this year at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, provides needed help for disadvantaged DuPage children, including a backpack filled with school supplies and the help of various DuPage service providers.

The costs of the backpacks and their contents would be anywhere from $60 to $100 if purchased retail, depending on the grade level, organizers of the event said.

Total cost for a DuPage parent to get their children through DuPage area schools is estimated to be $600 per year.

“I’m a single parent and I can appreciate any help I can get,” McCord said, noting that things were different when she lived in Cook County. “DuPage County is doing so much for its residents … it’s a shame that Cook County doesn’t do as much.”

Amy Lambert, Community Resource Coordinator with Catholic Charities, said the event has drawn about 5,000 people each of the last three years. She said there is a growing need in DuPage County to help less fortunate children. The packed Expo Center and block-long line to get into the fair would tend to prove Lambert’s point.

The supplies are provided to the kids free of cost, and the $30,000 that Catholic Charities gives to fund the event comes exclusively from donations.

“We reach out to our old donors,” Lambert said of the fundraising strategy, while stressing that the organization is always looking for other community businesses or charities to help with the fair.

Lambert said that other organizations do their part to serve the community, but it still wasn’t enough.

“We can’t meet the needs of some people here in DuPage,” she said.

One of those new organizations involved this year was the DuPage Credit Union, which raised $10,000 to help out.

Last year, the group began to organize its own back to school event and in consulting other service providers in the county found out that a specific area was being neglected.

“They told us there was a need for help for high school students,” Amy Brandt, representing DuPage Credit Union at the event, said.

So for the first time, the DuPage Back to School Fair supplied backpacks for high school students, which can cost as much as $100 when purchased retail.

Considering its history, the DuPage Back to School Fair was a natural fit for the business.

“We started out in 1954 as a teacher’s credit union,” Brandt said.

Along with the school supplies, 90 different service providers were on hand to help students in need of dental services, health checkups and more.

For the first time, the fair included a blood drive, which Lambert said was a big hit.

“You can still give something back, even if you are needy,” she said. “Everybody has something to give.”

Lambert said she wanted people to realize that while the common perception is that DuPage is an affluent area, that can be misleading.

“These are things (school supplies and medical services) that we take for granted,” she said, “but we still have pockets of need right here.”

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