ELYRIA — Thousands of local elementary school students will get backpacks full of school supplies this year, and local drug dealers are picking up the tab.
Volunteers gathered at Lorain County Community College on Tuesday to stuff backpacks as part of “Give Back with Backpacks,” a new program from the college and Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office. As a result, 4,300 students will receive backpacks of school supplies.
Project Outreach coordinator Tracy Smalley said the backpacks will go to every student in kindergarten through third grade from Elyria Schools, Lorain Schools and Clearview Schools.
“There will not be a kid who doesn’t receive them,” Smalley said.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said the supplies were paid for by the “bad guy endowment fund,” which is money the Prosecutor’s Office has seized from drug dealers. A certain portion of the money has to be spent on education. He said the fund contributed about $55,000 to buy school supplies.
On Thursday, volunteers worked through in assembly-line fashion across three long tables of school supplies to stuff backpacks. One school at a time, the bags were stuffed and then wrapped to be picked up by school officials.
“They’ve pretty much got it down to a science now,” Will said.
Smalley said it was a big production to get the event ready, which included spending more than nine hours the day before opening and tagging backpacks for different schools. She said about 50 people came to help the day before, even some who happened to be walking by on LCCC’s campus.
“Thank God we had those volunteers, or that probably wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
Elyria High School senior Marley Breese helped prepare the backpacks on both days. As president of the high school’s Key Club, she said, she always is looking for places to volunteer and contacted Smalley to see how she could help. She and other Key Club members helped.
Will said the Prosecutor’s Office got great response from volunteers when it announced the event. Those helping included students, teachers, residents and Scout troops.
“There’s a really big cross-section of people here in Lorain County,” he said.
LCCC President Marcia Ballinger said the college was happy to help with the event, saying the school believed in giving young students the “right start for the right future.” She said students need a lot of things to launch their careers, and that the backpacks with school supplies were a part of that.
“The backpacks today, I think, are their launch pad,” she said.
This was the first year for the event. Smalley said the plan is to continue “Give Back with Backpacks,” as well as expand it to include more students.