JOLIET – Hundreds of parents and children lined up outside the University of St. Francis gym Thursday morning to wait for their chance to get free school supplies and services.
Catholic Charities held its 22nd annual Back to School Fair for low-income families at the university.
Children from newborns to age 18 received supplies. They also could receive health screenings, including physicals, immunizations, dental exams, HIV testing and asthma screenings.
Other services such as nutrition, housing, legal and financial advice and haircuts also were offered.
“I just think this has been huge,” event coordinator Marianne Holzhauer said. “It’s kind of a one-stop-shopping spree that helps kids start out the school year.”
This year, Will County’s eight Wal-Marts and two Sam’s Clubs helped Catholic Charities with a grant and provided 2,750 backpacks stocked with paper, notebooks, rulers, markers, crayons, scissors and glue sticks.
Eligible parents needed to provide identification for all household members, proof of low-income and address verification.
Doors opened at 11 a.m., but people received tickets to wait in line at 8 a.m. Some arrived as early as 4 a.m., said Joliet mother Cheryl Smith.
Smith arrived at the fair at 10 a.m. and was still waiting for her number to be called two hours later.
“I saw in the advertisement that it started at 11,” she said. “I got here at 10, but that was obviously too late.”
Smith has two sons going to Isaac Singleton Elementary School in the fall and she came to pick up some supplies.
“But I think it’s great and wonderful for our community that they’re doing this for us,” Smith said.
Joliet resident Fidel Chavez came with his family to pick up supplies.
“We’re picking up supplies right now because this helps us out,” Chavez said.
One of his sons, Fidel Chavez Jr., is a sixth grader at Hufford Junior High School. Fidel spent the summer riding horses and said, “I wish the summer was longer.” But the younger Chavez said he is ready for school to start.
For Joliet resident Benita Aragon, the fair helped her family save money on school supplies and food.
Her daughter Viridiana Flores, a Gompers Junior High School eighth grader, said the back-to-school fair is a valuable contribution to the community.
“It really helps the community and some parents that don’t get enough money-wise,” Flores said. “It’s nice to have them give out these school supplies.”