Catholic Charities distributes school supply backpacks in Peoria, Bloomington

Megan Gibson holds a backpack designed for an elementary school girl, while her brothers Benjamin (left) and Luke prepare to add paper, notebooks and folders. All three attend St. Patrick School in Washington and Luke earned service hours for confirmation by helping other students get ready for school. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Families who visited the Catholic Charities food pantry in Peoria on Aug. 1 got a pleasant surprise when staff offered them the opportunity to pick up backpacks filled with school supplies for their children and grandchildren. There were 150 backpacks available at the food pantry that day, with another 75 being distributed through the Hispanic ministry of the Diocese of Peoria in the days that followed.

One elementary school student happily displays the backpack, festooned with Minions from “Despicable Me,” that he received through the Catholic Charities backpack program on Aug. 1. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Sister Ana Pia Cordua, SCTJM, executive director of Catholic Charities, said 75 backpacks had already been given away in the Bloomington-Normal area.

The giveaway is a continuation of the program started by the late Iris Hildreth, longtime program coordinator for Catholic Charities, who offered the backpacks to participants in the agency’s annual summer program.

“Even though we did not have a summer program, we decided that we would continue with the program of the backpacks due to the fact that there are so many children whose parents can’t get them ready for school. It’s a great need,” Sister Ana Pia told The Catholic Post.

Catholic Charities is able to purchase the supplies with a “very, very generous donation” from a group of individuals who support the backpack program, as well as the social service agency’s Christmas program for families. It’s all about “uplifting the dignity of families,” according to Sister Ana Pia.

She said the backpacks are divided by gender and whether they are needed by an elementary school student (through fourth grade) or a junior high or high school student.

They may not have everything that the schools are going to ask for, Sister Ana Pia said, but it’s enough to give parents “a good, solid beginning.”


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