Anyone who follows the news can see headlines about the rising cost of living: whether that’s an increase in housing costs, food costs or the price of transportation. But one family expense that most people don’t think about is the cost of school supplies. A recent study found that the average family spends $684 per child on back-to-school expenses every year. That’s an amount that many families in West Suburban Cook County simply can’t afford.
Inspired to solve this problem for local families, West40 partnered with Triton College in 2018 to create Backpack Giveback. At this event in late summer, parents could stop by to pick up free backpacks and school supplies for their kids in elementary school, middle school, high school and even college. That first event was a resounding success, with over 5,000 attendees, 3,117 backpacks distributed and donations from 25 community organizations.
In 2019, West40 decided to aim even bigger. This time, the event expanded to include two locations, helping families at both Triton College in River Grove and Morton College in Cicero. With multiple locations, West40 was able to serve a wider group of families. In fact, surveys from the event revealed that families drove as far as 25 miles one-way to attend. And from the moment the day began, volunteers could see the impact that their work was having.
“The line is out the door and the line is still growing,” said one West40 volunteer at Morton College. “There are a lot of families in need and we’re able to serve them here today. This is a beautiful event.”
Upon arriving, families found themselves in a party-like atmosphere, with music, free refreshments and even a dunk tank staffed by volunteers. Inside the college buildings, parents could find the tables that corresponded with their children’s ages, receiving backpacks with supplies chosen for them. About 80% of parents picked up backpacks for more than one child. Parents also had the chance to learn about other community services and about the educational opportunities available at the two colleges.
“People are so grateful. It’s such a nice experience to see all these families here on our campus, getting what they need,” said Maria Rivera, volunteer and Morton College student.
By all accounts, the 2019 Backpack Giveback had an even greater impact than the inaugural event. West40, Triton College and Morton College donated 4,000 total backpacks. And the event attracted 30 sponsors, including Flood Brothers, a local waste management company, which donated $10,000 to pay for backpacks and supplies.
“Backpack Giveback is a great event and a motivation for everyone,” said one mother, who attended the event with her son. “We can all go back to school with determination.”