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Dream Center prepares for annual back-to-school 'block party'

Cass Herrington
Peoria Public Radio

About 20 middle-school aged kids celebrated as the last backpack made its way down their assembly line into the pile of stuffed backpacks. That backpack, along with a few thousand more, will be given away to a student in need.

Kelsey Volk, an eighth-grader, traveled from Kansas to volunteer for the Dream Center.

"Mostly we've been doing behind-the-scenes work, so I can't wait to see the kids faces," Volk said.

People waited in line for several hours during last year’s event, said the Dream Center Executive Director Matt Larson. But he adds, the event is more like a block party than a handout. There will be a cookout, a D.J. and the Peoria Police.

“They’re not here for crowd control, they’re here to hang out. It’s like back when cops used to walk a beat," Larson said. "Everybody in the neighborhood would know them. There was that relationship going on, and I think we’ve gotten away from that.”

Larson says there will also be free dental exams and back-to-school haircuts. Larson wants Backpack Peoria give people who’ve hit hard times to experience something positive.

“There’s enough negative things going whether it’s the absence of a father at home, a mother struggling to make ends meet," Larson said. "So if we can be that voice saying we’re excited for you and encourage you to have a great year, that’s a huge deal.”

To be eligible, students must be within grades K-through-6 and must visit five informational booths at the expo. Larson says leftover supplies will be distributed to District 150 schools.

The Backpack Peoria Expo is Saturday from 9am-2pm at the Dream Center at 714 Hamilton Blvd.