With Lake County students facing ‘greater need,’ United Way extends school supply drive

Collection this year also includes clothes to help families who might be struggling

GURNEE – Aiming to help more families, United Way of Lake County’s annual school supply drive has been extended through the end of August and now includes a clothes drive.

The drive already has supplied 1,500 backpacks full of supplies to more than 800 families attending Waukegan public schools, but more donations are sought to help families throughout Lake County, organizers said.

It’s been a year unlike any other, they said.

“The beginning of the school year is always an incredible financial hurdle for many families,” said Bobbi Selvik, manager of community engagement for the Gurnee-based United Way of Lake County.

“In light of the additional economic setbacks from COVID-19, the need to support our local families and ensure students have the tools they need is even greater this year,” Selvik said. “By making a gift to United Way’s School Supply Drive, you’re helping ensure that our most at-risk kids have everything they need to start the school year ready to learn.”

Cash donations and school supplies are sought. Each $20 donation provides one student with a backpack full of supplies. Donations can be made online at www.liveunitedlakecounty.org/supply-drive-2021.

The site also includes a supply wish list for those who would rather buy supplies to be donated to students. Among the items sought are notebooks, binders, erasers, folders, scissors, glue sticks, loose-leaf paper and more. Those interested in donating school supplies are asked to contact Selvik at bobbi.selvik@uwlakeco.org.

In light of COVID-19 concerns, the United Way of Lake County adapted this year’s drive to collect more donations online and better meet the growing need for help, said Lori Nerheim, vice president of marketing and communications for United Way of Lake County.

Unable to host its usual “stuff the bus” event last year because of the pandemic, the organization pivoted, she said. This year’s School Supply Drive began in late June.

United Way of Lake County worked with more than a dozen community partners from the public and private sectors and used a new larger staging location – People’s Choice Family Fun Center in Waukegan – to collect and package donations, including the addition of clothes. Clothing donations had to be sorted by size and gender.

The organization added clothing donations after the Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 Board of Education eliminated the requirement of wearing uniforms for students from preschool through eighth grade.

The need stretches beyond Waukegan into communities throughout Lake County, Nerheim said.

“Due to COVID and families being more financially challenged than ever before, there is a bigger need,” she said. “For some kids, COVID has set them back. We’re trying to make sure they have everything they need to succeed when they get to school.”

She credits the volunteers and the many community and corporate sponsors for supporting the effort and making it a success so far.

A District 60 School Resource Distribution Fair on July 31 in which 1,500 backpacks were collected, packed and distributed drew more than 60 volunteers.

“What these volunteers have done is really incredible,” Nerheim said. “We’re just so proud all these kids are going to have all the supplies they need.”

But the work isn’t over, she said.

“United Way of Lake County is still collecting school supplies through the remainder of the summer and will share those resources with students in neighboring communities,” Nerheim said.