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BLOOMINGTON — More than 100 volunteers spent the week getting ready to help Bloomington-Normal students gear up for the school year.

At this year’s annual Back 2 School Alliance Party, organizers will give away close to 3,000 backpacks filled with new school supplies to students from McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 schools.

Supplies will be distributed from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday inside Grossinger Motors Arena with an express lane for supply pickup from 5-6 p.m.

“People do not need to stand in line — we will have enough,” said Jan Meadows, chairwoman of the Back2School Alliance. “Coming and sitting in line at 7 in the morning when we don’t open the doors until noon is not necessary because by 1 o’clock everybody’s in there. There’s no reason to do that.”

With the addition of pre-K packs this year, students entering eighth and lower grades will walk away with notebooks, folders, glue sticks, pencils, markers, index cards, binders and several other basic supplies, depending on their grade level.

Students will have the opportunity to snap a photo with their principals at the party’s photo booth. Organizers will develop those photos and send them to the schools to be picked up later.

A resource fair will also be available at Tuesday’s party with information about low-cost utility services, music lessons and more.

“When we talk about not having a level playing field, we’re talking about a whole lot more than having money, having stuff. We’re talking about experiences that our kids don’t get to have,” Meadows said.

To receive invitations, families should reach out to the school offices to verify their students are registered for school, up to date with immunizations and meet federal low-income requirements for free or reduced lunches.

Requiring invitations ensures kids aren’t sent home on the first day for not being registered, Meadows said.

“I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is to have that 6-year-old standing there empty handed and then get called to the office and sent home,” said Meadows, a retired teacher.

Collection boxes for donated supplies have been set up at several Twin City locations, including Hy-Vee, Advocate BroMenn Health and Fitness Center, Katie’s Kids Learning Center, both Walmart stores and the McLean County Museum of History.

“I can’t tell you how many people walk by us and put two quarters in and say ‘I needed school supplies when I was a kid. I’m happy to help,’” Meadows said of the collection drives held in the weeks leading up to the party.

Because the Back2School Alliance knows high school students need supplies, too, The Pantagraph Goodfellow Fund donated 50 filled backpacks to each high school. To pick up those bags, high schoolers can talk to a school counselor once classes start.

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Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.

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