CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The week of August 13th saw the return of our younger Central Illinois students to their classrooms. It comes after a pandemic-riddled year of restrictions, vast changes and financial strains. This week, U-of-I students began moving in. But before all of this, school supplies were a dire need for many.

During the pandemic in 2021, there was still a need for back to school supply giveaways or drives. But the difference was there were ample volunteers to contribute. Whether it was packing up supplies in generic packs for kids to take home or distributing them to families. Many organizations and volunteers stepped up.

That includes the Salvation Army of Champaign County, who held their annual back to school collection and distribution drive this year. The anticipation for the supplies grew as summer began to unwind and families noticed a dwindling amount at local stores. That’s why they partnered with Walmart and Dollar General stores in Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Rantoul, and Savoy as part of a statewide effort to meet the need.

10,304 supplies were collected in 2022 compared to 2021’s 4,279. Monetarily, it was a different story as 2021 saw $2,454 in donations while this year only received $2,028.63. Overall, the numbers reflect that even with higher costs and demand for the supplies behind them, Central Illinois found ways to ensure every item was given out. Even all the miscellaneous items were distributed. Meaning every donation was put to good use.

But aside from a strain on school supply amounts, families also had to combat rising prices at the store. Something everyone has faced in some way for their needs. Having the right tools in the classroom, just like having proper attire, can be the confidence boost a kid needs to excel. Something Major Summit says would never be possible without the generosity and determination of our Central Illinois communities far and wide.

“Last year one of the major influences was, we did the same drive. Again, we had wonderful partners with Dollar Tree and Walmart. Wonderful partners all over this county and Vermilion County. But again, they weren’t able to be manned. One of the things the Salvation Army has learned over the decades is that with any event you do, if you have a volunteer there that can interact, share and help the donor you’ll do so much better, usually ten times better. That was true this year compared to last year,” says Major Summit.

The Major also gave a special recognition to two individuals he believes made the success of this year’s back to school efforts realistic. Melissa Wilhelm, the Special Events & Development Coordinator for the Salvation Army of Champaign and Vermilion County. Also, Al Vogelsang who helped organize events in Rantoul at his church and beyond. Major Summit says these two leaders and the many volunteers they recruited from the community were the foundation needed for everything to work.

Major Summit also shared what’s on the horizon for their organization. He says now that kids are back in classes, they’ve begun to prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas needs that may surface this year. Which means you can show support even now, by becoming a volunteer or making a monetary contribution online.

For those interested in volunteering as those holidays get closer, you can click here.

To contact the Salvation Army of Champaign County for more info or other needs, click here.