Back-to-school supply drives planned

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Shelly Birkelo
Sunday, August 4, 2013

JANESVILLE—Across the nation, parents are likely to spend between $101 and $200 per child this year on back-to-school items.

According to a survey from Offers.com, parents plan to shop in August for deals on supplies such as notebooks, paper, pens and backpacks.

Although many families can afford to do this, hundreds of local families can't afford to spend anything on back-to-school supplies.

That's why two local nonprofits—ECHO and Love INC—are each conducting school supply drives this month so more than 1,000 school-age children in Janesville and Beloit, respectively, will get the supplies they need to get their school year off to a good start.

“It's important the child who is coming to ECHO is able to go to school just like another child not coming to ECHO,” said Jessica Schafer-Locher, ECHO client advocate/office manager.

“Our goal is to make sure every child receives a backpack filled with the supplies that are needed for their grade level. By having all supplies needed at the beginning of the school year, a child is set up for success. Not only will the child be prepared in the classroom, but he or she will be able to do work at home as well,'' she said.

Raejene Schlenke, executive director of Love INC, agreed.

“It just helps the student be more successful in school if they can go with a new backpack and cool supplies like everybody else,” Schlenke said.

More students than ever are expected to need school supplies locally this year.

Everyone Cooperating to Help Others gave 1,080 children from 461 families school supplies last year and probably will help between 1,100 and 1,200 children from around 500 families this year, Schafer-Locher said.

“There are more people coming to ECHO who are employed, but they are part-time or low-paying jobs. By the time they pay for housing costs, there's not a lot left to buy school items,” she said.

Schlenke said demand for school supplies has steadily increased since Love In the Name of Christ started the community service project four years ago.

“We gave out 165 backpacks filled with supplies in 2012 and expect to give out 255 or more this year,” she said.

“Unemployment is still pretty high, and a lot of our clients have minimum or a bit above minimum-wage and not full-time jobs, which makes it extremely tough for someone to get back on their feet (financially),” she said.

Although Love INC is based in Janesville, it is conducting the school supply drive for Beloit students because no other organization is doing so. That avoids duplication of the service ECHO already is providing in Janesville, Schlenke said.

 For the drive to be successful, Schafer-Locher said it's more important than ever that the community support this project. No money was set aside in ECHO's budget to buy school supplies or other seasonal items such as Christmas toys again this year.

“Normally we try to provide everything the child would need, but without donations, we're not going to be able to provide or serve as much as in the past. There's no cash funds to draw from,” she said.

Love INC also has planned two back-to-school events—one in Janesville and the other in Beloit—as a big celebration before families get ready for school again.

“It's a neat way to bless the community by giving back,” Schlenke said.

“We also try to have events that are free and fun with the family,” she said.

Carnival games, food, giveaways and raffles will all be featured.

“They're open to everyone,” Schlenke said.

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