Helping students one backpack at a time

News-DemocratAugust 8, 2013 

Ten-year-old Rosemary Gardner, of Belleville, picked out a blue backpack Wednesday night during the back-to-school backpack event at Belleville West High School, because blue is her favorite color.

Rosemary, a fifth-grader at Union School in Belleville, was one of a thousand local students who received backpacks donated by local businesses and organizations.

"It's really helpful if parents can't get backpacks for their kids," Rosemary said.

Rosemary's mother Angela Gardner said she likes visiting the vendor tables at the event to find out more about local businesses and groups. "I get all the information I need," she said.

The annual event is sponsored by the education committee of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce.

"We want to do this for our students, because so many students in the Belleville area aren't able to afford school supplies and backpacks," Suzette Lambert said. "We want them to know we value school, and we understand that supplies are sometimes hard to come by."

Lambert is chairwoman of the chamber's education committee and superintendent of Signal Hill School District 181.

Parent June Tritley of Belleville described the backpack event as "wonderful. When the community is in need with the economy as bad as it is, it's a blessing," Tritley said.

Her son Quintyn, 3, a student in the early childhood program at Westhaven School, picked out a red backpack, and his older brother, Scott, a first-grader at Roosevelt School, got an orange backpack.

Parent Kristina Mondragon, who has four children, said she and her children like coming to the event every year. "For four of them, it's just crazy expensive for school supplies," she said.

Mondragon said her children also enjoy finding out about new activities in the area from the vendors at the event.

Over 50 businesses and organizations had tables at the event from local banks and credit unions to the Girls Scouts and the YMCA. "We want to bring businesses together and show families what is available," Lambert said.

In order to qualify for the free backpacks, students through eighth grade had to be registered at a Belleville school, and families were required to visit at least 15 of the vendor tables. The children were all smiles as they got a blue stamp on their bingo card every time they stopped to talk to a vendor.

A school bus was on hand at the event to teach students about school bus safety. Young attendees could also play carnival games, bounce on an inflatable and, for the brave ones, try the rock climbing wall. Free food was provided as well.

Lambert praised all the volunteers who helped with the event including local students from the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and the BASIC (Belleville Achieves Strength in Character) program.

"It's a good effort by our committee and the businesses to show what education means to all of us," she said. "It's a great event for all students, schools and businesses to come together."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BND_JForsythe.

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