BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — 4,000 families in McLean County Unit 5 and District 87 schools received free school supplies Thursday afternoon, just in time for the first day.

The Back to School Alliance, Unit 5 and District 87 school districts hosted the 24th annual giveaway at State Farm’s south parking garage in Bloomington.

Eligible families with kindergarten through eighth graders were given backpacks, binders and other supplies. To be eligible, families had to be on their district’s free and reduced-price lunch program.

Jan Meadows, the chair of the Back to School Alliance said the need has been greater in the past few years due to COVID-19 and now inflation.

“When everybody complains about inflation, I don’t know how many people think about what it means to something as basic as school supplies. We talked about a composition notebook last year was .50 cents and this year it’s 55 cents, no big deal it’s 10%, but that goes all the way across the board and our budget is limited,” Meadows said.

Meadows and other teachers started the drive as a way to address students showing up on the first day unprepared.

“I am a retired first-grade teacher and I can tell you there’s nothing like that first day of school for a six-year-old, it’s a magical day. For our students who come without anything while everyone else is unpacking their cool supplies, it’s heartbreaking and to be able to help prevent, that’s a big deal to us,” Meadows said.

She said the group tries buying the backpacks on clearance and looks to get a variety of designs and colors, so each student has a “personalized” pick of backpacks.