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Nearly 300 kids are now ready to go

Participation down, but Back to School Fair still successful in preparing students

Published: Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013 4:59 a.m. CDT

The 4th annual Grundy County Back to School Fair’s move to Coal City this year saved the fair’s organizers money and provided for a smooth and private event.

The fair was held last month at Coal City Elementary School and served about 288 students getting ready to go back to school. The fair provides school supplies and services, such as physicals, for Grundy County families who qualify.

It is funded by the United Way of Grundy County and the Community Foundation of Grundy County, as well as donors. The fair is also served by Operation St. Nick, We Care of Grundy County, Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers, Morris Lions Club, Dr. Roebuck and Dr. Ortiz optometrists offices, Mobile Dentists, Grundy Transit System, Illinois School Bus, Keeping your Kids in Shoes, Easter Seals, Child Care Resource and Referral, and the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

From backpacks to developmental screenings, the children leave the fair ready for school.

The event was moved from Morris to Coal City this year in order to continue to provide privacy for the students receiving services, but by spending less to do so.

“We really appreciate all the years the First Christian Church let us use their facility,” said Karen Nall, United Way of Grundy County executive director.

But in order to give privacy at the church to those families getting dental, vision and medical services, United Way and the Community Foundation of Grundy County paid for piping and drapes to create separate, private areas.

At the Coal City school, the services could be provided in separate classrooms, saving the organizations $1,500 on piping and draping rental.

“We kept the costs down to very minimal this year,” said Nall.

In years past, those living in Coal City and other areas of the county have been bused to Morris for the fair. This year, those living in Morris and Minooka were bused to Coal City.

“We are grateful to Coal City School District for allowing us to use their facility. We received very positive feedback from the expo participants and service providers on the location,” said Devan Gagliardo, of the Community Foundation, in a press release. “We want to also thank those involved from the service providers to the volunteers, to those who donated food. Without everyone working together the families who participated wouldn’t have had these services.”

The number of kids served this year was down by more than 100, but Nall said she did not believe it was because of the location, but because of a combination of other reasons.

There were quite a few registered for the event that did not show, she said. In addition, she believes there were many families who moved out of the county, whether it was because of the April 18 flood or families moving in together due to financial reasons.

“We are looking at partnering with the schools next year and maybe working off their free and reduced lunch lists to encourage more families,” said Nall.

The fair committee is going to start surveying past fair attendees as well to see if they have any concerns that may have affected attendance.

“We want to encourage families to apply, even if they don’t know if they qualify,” she said.

“We want to keep it going so we want to reach as many people as possible,” Nall continued.

Applications for the fair are usually available in May or June. People can call the United Way, Community Foundation, or We Care offices to be added to a list to be notified when applications are available.

The fair had more than 575 books available through a community book drive lead by the United Way so every child could go home with books for their reading age. An expo was also held with 18 organizations providing information and resources for families.

More than 50 volunteers from area organizations and as individuals helped prepare and run the fair, said Nall

For more information on the Grundy County Back to School Fair contact Karen Nall, of the United Way of Grundy County, at karen@UWGrundy.org or Devan Gagliardo, of the Community Foundation of Grundy County, at devan@cfgrundycounty.com.

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