ELYRIA — The Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office hopes to address education concerns in the county, one supply-stuffed backpack at a time.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office, in partnership with Lorain County Community College, will hand out roughly 4,300 backpacks to kindergarten through third-grade students at Elyria, Clearview and Lorain Schools in August. Those districts were chosen based on where the program could get the “biggest reach” with the money available, Will said.
“There was a definite need that we identified from talking to both parents … the teachers, the schools, some administrators, and they said ‘Look this is a big deal,’” Will said. “And I know that people every year they collect supplies and then give them out, so we tried to come up with a comprehensive plan to make sure that we were able to guarantee that a certain number of students would be able to get their supplies and their parents would not have to spend either the economic cost of those and/or the running around to try and pick them up.”
The backpacks will include basic supplies such as highlighters, crayons, tissues and binders, all paid for out of the “bad guys endowment fund,” Will joked — about $50,000 the office has received via forfeiture from criminal drug cases.
Backpacks will be distributed to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, by teachers on the first day of school. Those students whose parents wish to buy their own backpack and supplies can opt out of the program and the county-supplied backpack and supplies will be given to another child in need, Will said. Logistical help, including housing and transporting the supplies, will be provided by LCCC.
The supplies and backpacks will be purchased online, with free shipping, to help the office stretch its “endowment fund.”
Will said the process was a learning experience for him, as he doesn’t have children and relied on employees in his office to help figure out what kinds of backpacks to buy.
“I never carried a backpack to school; I’m thinking about what are we talking about here,” Will said, laughing. “The Marine Corps gave me a backpack and they’re saying ‘no, no you don’t understand, you’ve got to have this, you’ve got to have that.’ So you can’t just buy the lowest cost item, you’ve got to get something that has enough wear and tear in it that’s going to last the kid through the year and it’s going to be able to carry the stuff. I didn’t realize how much stuff these kids carry home, so that was an education for me from my parents that work here with me.”
Lorain and Elyria schools expressed their appreciation on behalf of some of their districts’ youngest students.
Amy Higgins, Elyria Schools’ director of communications and marketing, said the kits may not cover everything on specific teachers’ lists, but it’s an “excellent start.”
“We’re just so grateful,” Higgins said. “Just what a wonderful, wonderful gift.”
She added, “We’ve always gotten generous support from the community during the summer for backpack supplies and backpacks, we encourage people if they still want to do school supply drives to still do them. We need them all year.”
Eric Bonzar, Lorain Schools’ communication and marketing coordinator wrote in an email the district is “forever grateful” to Will and his office.
“Any time anyone in the community steps up to relieve any type of burden our families face, it serves as a testament to the civic pride the city of Lorain and its surrounding communities has for its children,” he said. “This generous gift will serve as a tangible representation of the district’s core value of ‘One For All’ as we collectively continue striving to do what is in the best interest of scholars.”
Will is hoping to grow the program for the 2020-21 school year and beyond; his office is looking to partner with companies to expand it to other grade levels and districts.
Those interested in volunteering to help fill the backpacks can contact Will’s office via its Facebook page or call (440) 329-5389.