Children crowd around the table at last year's backpack giveaway.
Photo courtesy the Volunteer Center
Lyn Neuhengen and the gang at the Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago are on the hunt again this year for school supplies to give to children living on the back stretch at Arlington Park.
They are in great need of help - fast.
The center has scheduled this year's "Backpacks for the Back Stretch" event at the track for July 31, when they plan on handing out back packs and other school supplies to more than 200 children ages 3-13.
The children live on the backstretch because their parents work at the Arlington Heights track during its racing season, taking care of the horses and the stables. After the season ends, they move to Hawthorne race track in Cicero.
Last year, Neuhengen and Jean Lamantia found some volunteers to help put together a summer day camp for 250 backstretch children. They're doing that again this year. The day camp is funded by Arlington Park.
Neuhengen estimates that 85 percent of the children who attend are from Mexico, whose parents have little or no education.
"There are some that don't understand the processes here and they don't know how to help their children," said Neuhengen. "The families really needed support from us."
Still, Neuhengen and Lamantia decided the day camp wasn't enough. Digging deeper, they found out that the children really needed backpacks and school supplies.
They began spreading e-mails to people who they knew were involved in the community. The response they got was terrific.
"Everyone cares about youth, and these children have very, very little," said Neuhengen.
Passing out the gifts last year was enough for Neuhengen to vow to do it again this year. She said the kids were thrilled to get something that was their own, that they got to pick out themselves.
"The special gleam the children got in their eyes and their ear-to-ear smiles when they were able to pick something out would make you think they were getting a trip to Disney World," said Neuhengen. "Who would of thought that something so simple would mean so much?"
This year's event is a couple few weeks away, and donators are still needed.
"Until we know exactly how many kids there are, we need to keep receiving donations," said Neuhengen. "We need a variety of items because we don't yet know the breakdown of the kids (ages, styles, etc.)."
Donations are coming in, but more is needed. The deadline is July 25 so the staff has time to buy the supplies for the July 31 delivery.
Donate online by visiting www.volunteerinfo.net or send or drop off checks payable to The Volunteer Center of Northwest Suburban Chicago, 2121 S. Goebbert Road, Arlington Heights, IL 60005.
To schedule a drop-off or for more information about the event and future events contact Lyn Neuhengen, Jean Lamantia, or Jackie Kelley at the volunteer center, (847)-228-1320.