BLOOMINGTON — Eliazar Mendiola doesn’t see students open the presents he gives. But he gets plenty of satisfaction knowing his donations of school supplies not only make kids happy, but also help them start their school year off right.
Mendiola, of Bloomington, remembers his days at Brigham Elementary School in Bloomington, and noticing some of his classmates didn’t have the school supplies they needed.
At age 27, he started a tradition of buying “fully loaded” backpacks for the school he and his siblings attended. He gave two backpacks for each grade level the first year. Now, 13 years later, he annually gives four backpacks per class. He brings them by before school starts, and quietly leaves.
“I never know who gets them,” he said.
After reading a recent Pantagraph story about how the Back 2 School Alliance has a shortage of donations, Mendiola agreed to share his story in hopes it will inspire others to donate much-needed school supplies.
“People like Eliazar break down barriers that prevent achievement. He gives students the tools to be successful. He really makes a huge difference in their success,” said Cedar Ridge Elementary School Principal Geoff Schoonover. When the school opened two years ago with former Brigham staff, Mendiola continued his tradition.
“We identify those students who are in need and work with the teacher to hand out supplies before school begins,” said Schoonover, adding, “The students, parents, and faculty appreciate all the assistance the community, corporations, and friends provide.”
The same is true at other schools, such as Sheridan Elementary School in Bloomington District 87, that also has “friends” who anonymously have given supplies for years.
Mendiola, who has now donated 282 backpacks to Brigham students, said he’s learned a lot about shopping, estimating the 24 backpacks this year would have cost four times as much without sales.
He fills them with supply list items, but also practical items like toothbrushes and toothpaste. He also includes technology needs like Flash drives if teachers require them.
Initially, his shopping was “chaos” — now it’s “a scientific process,” he said. While he tries to buy most items locally, he also finds bargains as he travels through his work in the insurance industry.
He attaches a card to each backpack identifying the grade level, adds best wishes and personally signs each one. Every backpack also includes a folder or binder from Illinois State University that he attended or Illinois Wesleyan University, where was a political science graduate in 1998, to keep the idea of higher education in the minds of young children, he said.
With no children of his own, Mendiola often gets advice from his two nephews.
Superheroes and Nickelodeon TV stars are big on backpacks this year, advised nephew Armani Mendiola, 14, a Bloomington High School student who says he enjoys being part of the family tradition.
“I like to help out,” agreed his brother, Chancellor, 17, a BHS senior; both are sons of Elias Mendiola, a Bloomington police officer.
Community involvement and giving are traditions their parents and grandparents have passed on, said Eliazar Mendiola.
How to help
BLOOMINGTON — Monetary donations and school supplies still are needed for the Back 2 School Alliance, which provides back-to-school items for deserving children.
Since a plea for help last week, the Alliance received a $5,000 contribution and “there were a couple dozen generous donations from both individuals and businesses, mainly online, ranging from $20 to $250,” said alliance chairwoman Debbi Yeazle.
“The past week’s donations will help supply almost another 300 kids with the tools they need to get off to a good start in school this year,” she said. “It was a miraculous week. Maybe we can have another this coming week.”
Monetary donations and school supplies can be dropped off at Bloomington District 87, 300 E. Monroe Bloomington; McLean County Unit 5, 1809 W. Hovey Ave., Normal; or Mid Central Community Action, 1301 W. Washington St., Bloomington. Monetary donations also can be accepted at www.
Needed items include backpacks; zipper closure three-ring binders; three-ring binders; divider tabs; two-pocket folders; 3-by-5-inch lined index cards; loose, wide-rule paper; wide-rule spiral notebooks; 12-inch standard/metric ruler; colored pencils; washable markers; No. 2 pencils; black or blue pens; glue sticks; 24-pack crayons; highlighters; Fiskar scissors; pink eraser.
Back 2 School Alliance hopes to help about 5,200 children in kindergarten through eighth grade, and about 1,600 high school students.