MORRIS - For some families, the end of summer and the start of the school year brings added stress as they try to afford new clothes, shoes and school supplies.
Fortunately, there's help out there. Operation St. Nick has completed its Back-To-School program for 2014, assisting 381 children from 208 families throughout Grundy County as they return to school.
The economy may be improving, but many families still struggle to put food on the table and pay their monthly bills despite working, said Joe Schmitz, Operation St. Nick president.
"Many parents are out of work because of health issues, being laid off or they just make minimum wage, which makes it difficult to make ends meet," Schmitz said.
The program supplies kids with $50 in school supplies and $100 in clothing for each child.
Operation St. Nick was one of the founding agencies of the Grundy County Back To School Fair, and they have assisted 4,258 children over the past 10 years. The amount they provide annually depends on donations, but so far they have spent $541,881 in 10 years.
In 1992, when the program began, they assisted 100 children, providing $75 per student, $50 for clothing and $25 on school supplies.
Schmitz said the amount spent per child increased the first few years, but has held steady at $150 for the past seven.
"We never know for sure how many families will complete and submit the application and qualify for assistance," Kathy Dale, coordinator of the Operation St. Nick Back-To-School program said in a press release. "The application process is quite lengthy, but the information gives us the insight to see which families are in the most need, so we can help their children."
Dale said it's important to take off some of the financial burden from struggling families, so their children can look forward to returning to school with the proper supplies and new clothing they picked out themselves.
The Back-To-School program is funded by the annual Christmas in July party, held July 26 this year at Clayton's Tap in Morris. The event raised $40,000.
Lois Darlington of Clayton's Tap said her committee, led by Jan Close and Karen Looper, worked from right after Christmas until July to pull the event together.
"When you realize that this great community of Grundy County has donated more than a half million dollars over the past 10 years to help assist families in need have the school supplies and clothing their children need to go back to school and feel good about themselves, like the rest of their classmates, it shows why Grundy County is such a wonderful place to live and raise your family," Schmitz said. "I know of no other place like it."
Operation St. Nick is a 501c3 not-for-profit charity that helps families in need with six programs during the year.
Besides the Back-To-School program, they have a spring new bike program; run a literacy program to help children improve their reading skills; help food pantries throughout Grundy County keep their pantries full; assist 12 military families a year over the holiday season with a dream wish; and give children gifts they ask for right off their own Christmas wish list, as well as food for their family, through their Christmas program.
Donations to Operation St. Nick can be sent to PO Box 781, Morris, IL 60450.