JACKSONVILLE — A little more than a decade ago, Father Mark Kusmirek learned from a parishioner who worked at JISD that approximately 80 percent of local students were from economically disadvantaged families.
Wanting to help, the priest challenged his parishioners at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church to provide those children with basic school supplies and uniforms. After two years, however, the church wasn't able to handle the project alone, so they coordinated with other churches, businesses and fraternal organizations to create Jacksonville's “Back to School Fair,” held each August on the Chamber of Commerce grounds.
Today, the project has grown to help hundreds of local youths.
“Nine years ago – can you believe it?” Father Mark asked. “What's been remarkable has been the collaboration over the years. I feel it's what sets Jacksonville apart, and it's what I've come to love so much about this city and its people: They give wholeheartedly.”
This year's fair – a joint effort spearheaded by the local Chamber, The Clothes Closet and More, and Our Lady of Sorrows – is slated from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5 and will provide approximately 800 children in need with backpacks, school supplies and standardized clothing for the upcoming year, according to a press release from the Chamber.
The event has grown into one with vendors providing information, demonstrations on health and safety, and entertainment.
“The exhibitors we have are wonderful, because it helps families to see what other opportunities are out there for their children, and they also provide information on the school district, as well as on health and wellness,” Father Mark said.
This year, between 10 to 15 volunteers will help stuff 800 backpacks the day before the event, then distribute them during the fair, said project coordinator Kim Smith.
In the meantime, donations are being accepted through Aug. 1.