Zimmer Biomet employees stand in front of some of the bags that were dropped off at Lincoln Elementary School during the Big Give event Wednesday. Some dropped off bags and others helped get bags from other donors’ cars. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
Zimmer Biomet employees stand in front of some of the bags that were dropped off at Lincoln Elementary School during the Big Give event Wednesday. Some dropped off bags and others helped get bags from other donors’ cars. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
United Way of Whitley & Kosciusko Counties helped area elementary students Wednesday in preparing for the 2021-22 school year during its Big Give event.

Through a grant from the Zimmer Biomet Foundation, United Way was able to secure 2,500 drawstring bags. Each bag was tagged with a supply list for a grade level. Volunteers get a chance to pick just the right items to fill the bag, often putting in more supplies in than are required, stated a news release from United Way.

The bags focus on the essentials for kindergarten through sixth grades - pencils, crayons, paper, notebooks, folders. There’s about $25 worth of supplies in every bag, said Darren Bickel, United Way president. “It’s a lot of what does every kid need to get back in there.”

This is the fourth year for the program, he said.

“This is our first big project as the new United Way, serving both Whitley and Kosciusko counties. Our goal starting out was 100 bags per elementary school,” Bickel said. In total, United Way served 20 elementary schools between six school systems.

United Way had everything from corporations that took “a large chunk of bags” and from United Way to churches and individuals donate, Bickel said. One example he gave was Kosciusko Community Hospital took about 150 bags and handed them out to its employees to fill.

“So we’ve tried to make the program really portable,” so no matter how big of a group of people wants to get involved, they can do it, Bickel said.  

Bags of school supplies were able to be dropped off Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary School. Bickel said some companies who filled the bags wanted to get the supplies to certain schools before Wednesday, so some bags were already delivered.

There were some companies that filled 100 bags and wanted to take them directly to the school. One example Bickel gave was Medtronic is right across the street from Madison Elementary School and Medtronic delivered the bags to Madison.

But Bickel said United Way would get the bags to 16 schools by the end of the day Wednesday.

He said there has been tremendous generosity behind the program this year. He doesn’t know if it’s the right project at the right time or if people are really excited about going back to school.

“Our donors keep coming in and telling us great stories about getting going and picking pencils and crayons and really feeling that back-to-school energy,” Bickel said.

“I think, for us, it’s part of leveling the playing field that you want to make sure every kids starts school right,” Bickel said. “It doesn’t take long to talk with adults to think about what it would be like to go into third grade and know you don’t have the school supplies. And you show up the first day and you don’t have the right stuff. And it’s really about how do we set kids up for success. And that’s a message that’s really easy for people to get behind.

“And that’s part of our distribution strategy. We’re really putting these (bags) in the hands of principals and guidance counselors to say, ‘You guys know the families,’” Bickel said.

“We are so blessed by the incredible generosity of the United Way and all their community volunteers. As part of their efforts, over 800 students in Warsaw Community Schools will be provided school supplies.  These are all student that would struggle to have these needed supplies on the first day of school. Thank you, United Way, for providing these needed supplies to help ensure every student has a great first day of the 2021-22 school year,” said Dr. David Hoffert, superintendent for Warsaw Community Schools.

Bickel said he has seen the Big Give event grow and there’s more places that are wanting to sign up.

“It’s great because you can take these from us and you can take them back to your business or to your church. It’s really a project you can get a lot of ownership in. You can literally volunteer at work or wherever you’re comfortable and come and become part of a bigger community,” Bickel said.