Enchanted Backpack brings ‘gifts for our kids and teachers’ to McHenry’s Hilltop Elementary School

Hilly, the mascot at McHenry School District 15's Hilltop Elementary School, helps unload $40,000 in school supplies donated by Enchanted Backpack on June 15, 2023.

“Gift” was the word that kept coming back to Hilltop Elementary School Principal Christy Brown.

The gift was an estimated $40,000 in school supplies donated to the McHenry school by Enchanted Backpack, a Bensenville-based nonprofit organization that provides supplies to schools with at least 50% of students qualifying for free or reduced-fee lunch.

Two delivery vans from the group arrived on Thursday to a group of about 30 volunteers, ready to help unload, sort and deliver the supplies to classrooms.

“This is a gift to the people right here,” Brown said, as the volunteers opened cases of books, notepads, three-ring binders, winter coats and more.

“This is a gift to your kids ... ultimately it is all for them,” Brown said.

—  McHenry's Hillside Elementary School Principal Christy Brown

Four large boxes contained what teachers called “prizes” for their students – small packaged toys and other trinkets to give students modeling good behaviors in the classroom. Teachers, Brown said, often spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each school year for these prizes.

She was overwhelmed “with the enormity of it all” between rugs for classroom reading sessions, deflated sports balls for recess, and a karaoke machine.

“We buy a new one off of Amazon for $30 every year” for assemblies and classroom use, Brown said.

Brown and teacher Jenny Mihevc applied online for the Enchanted Backpack program, and received notification this spring that Hilltop was selected.

According to warehouse manager Jackson Chandler, the organization picks schools where at least 50% of its students fall into the low-income category. The non-profit is funded by the private Lavin Family Foundation. All donations made to the organization goes to buying needed school supplies, Chandler said.

Each year, 50 schools get a delivery from Enchanted Backpack. In its six years in operation, almost 300 schools in northern Illinois, northwest Indiana, Louisiana, Florida and Kentucky have received a donation, Chandler said.

The organization does not advertise, but shares its information by word of mouth between schools. Other programs donate to YWCAs, the Red Cross and Salvation Army, among others, he said.

Many of the products come from close out-sales, increasing the organization’s buying power. Stores like Nordstrom Rack will sell pallets of winter coats which did not sell and are “three years out of fashion,” Chandler said.

Enchanted Backpack staff then goes through the clothes and other donations to ensure they are in good shape.

The donation includes boxes of socks, underwear and leggings for children at the 462-student, kindergarten-through-grade three, Brown said.

McHenry School District 15 does make sure its schools are well-supplied, but those things donated Thursday are items teachers are usually buying out-of-pocket for their classrooms, Brown said.

“This is a gift to your kids ... ultimately it is all for them,” Brown said.