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Watch now: Backpack Attack drive-through in Decatur provides kids with school supplies
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Watch now: Backpack Attack drive-through in Decatur provides kids with school supplies


DECATUR — COVID-19 might have forced the cancellation of the annual Jumpstart event, but neither it nor a rainy day stopped Backpack Attack.

At the Greater Decatur Family YMCA on Saturday, a slow but steady stream of cars drove through the parking lot to pick up donated backpacks full of donated school supplies from volunteers in slickers.


Warrensburg-Latham High School juniors Claire Campbell, left, and Ema Dutcher, right, give backpacks containing school supplies to families of Decatur Public Schools on Saturday morning at the Decatur Family YMCA. 2,100 backpacks were filled with school supplies and information for families to begin the new school year strong.

“It really helps a lot,” said Racheal Weaber, who is “the aunt who picked up all the nieces” and drove six children to the Y for their backpacks. Two of the kids are hers, and the six ranged in age from a second-grader to two sixth-graders.

School supplies can be expensive, Weaber said, and the backpacks contain all the things K-6 kids will need to start the school year, even if they are learning remotely during the first quarter.

“Usually, we have a lot of activities going on and we give backpacks away inside and outside, but this year, just because of COVID, we decided to do a drive-up to keep everybody safe,” said Matt Whitehead, the Y's CEO.

Jumpstart, sponsored by First Christian Church, would normally be held on the same day and give parents a chance to get their kids' school physicals taken care of, too, but the event is usually quite crowded and had to be scrapped this year, like so many events have. That means that families like Weaber's will have to make appointments with their family physician instead, and getting an appointment, Weaber said, is no easy feat during a pandemic.

The requirement to have a physical completed, if a student is entering preschool, kindergarten, sixth or ninth grade or are new to a district, has not been suspended even though Decatur Public Schools, and other Illinois districts, are beginning the year with remote learning, said Maria Robertson, director of community engagement. Students still must turn in their completed paperwork by Sept. 15.

Remote learning also makes it especially critical for parents to get their kids registered for school as soon as possible, Robertson said. The district has to know how many iPads will be needed, and whether families have access to the internet, as early as possible to make preparations.

Returning students can register online, while new students and kindergartners will have to register in person at their home school. If you don't know which building your child will attend, you can call any Decatur district school or Student Services at (217) 362-3060, and they can help you, she said.

Inside the Y, teen volunteers worked to prepare the backpacks to be taken outside for distribution. Many of them are members of Young Leaders in Action.

“I joined (the organization) in the summer and thought it would be a good opportunity to help out in different communities and the area,” said Reagan Hunt, a senior at Meridian High School. The group has distributed food baskets.

The Y had more than 2,000 backpacks for distribution, Whitehead said, thanks to PackEd School Supplies in Decatur. The organization packages school supplies for schools and individuals and delivers them to homes or schools.

Robertson said the district has not released school supply lists as yet because administrators were waiting for the final decision on whether to open schools for in-person learning or begin the school year with remote learning, but the basics are generally the same every year, and kids will need those supplies whether they're at home or in the buildings. The hope is that students will be able to return to their school buildings by the second quarter, though that decision won't be made for some weeks yet.

“Our teachers want to go back, and our students want to go back and be able to see their friends,” she said.

First day at renovated Eisenhower High School 

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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