Waukegan, IL

Gurnee family donates hundreds of backpacks to Waukegan students at two elementary schools

Yadira Sanchez Olson

By Yadira Sanchez Olson

After a year that left many families in a financial lurch, one couple’s gesture of kindness is set to make kids, parents and teachers smile with joy and gratitude. 

Gurnee residents Ty Harris and his wife Kelley Griffin-Harris will be donating hundreds of new backpacks filled with school supplies to two Waukegan elementary schools. 

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Thousands of school supplies purchased by the Harris family will be donate to Waukegan students.Harris family

Greenwood and McCall will be receiving the gifts in early August. 

Harris said the backpacks are gems they like to seek out.  

The couple spent an entire year shopping at different locations, even in different states, to find cool-looking gear to wow the students. 

Some of the backpacks have flowers, others monsters and superheroes. 

The ones for older students are of brands “all the kids are wearing,” Harris said.

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Ty Harris puts together supplies to place in backpacks at his Gurnee home.Yadira Sanchez Olson

“How exciting that all students will be equipped with their supplies on the first day of school, '' said Greenwood elementary principal Joyce Meyer. “It will be a special day for everyone involved.”

The students will also receive bonus items, like headphones and gadgets for their smartphone.  

The couple said after the year the students have had, with the ever-evolving restrictions and new rules for operating classes, they deserve a little sunshine. 

“What better way to start a new school year than with cool new stuff,” Griffin-Harris said. 

The husband and wife duo are excited to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get their backpack and then open it to find that nearly all of the materials on their class list are there. 

They know that smile well. 

They’ve been seeing that joy in children’s faces since 2017. 

It was an act of gratitude toward the people of the St. Thomas Virgin Islands, where the couple vacationed. 

It was then that Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the islands and they were stranded for almost a week.

“That was a life-changing experience,” Harris said. 

“The hotel staff took care of us like we were family,” Griffin-Harris said. “You can never pay that back. “

But they try anyway.

Since then, they send backpacks and school supplies in boxes through the US Postal Service and also personally carry large military duffle bags with them for the children at schools there. 

“It’s almost overwhelming for us. It’s just fun to see it all,” Harris said. 

Since they’ve done this for five years, the couple has worked out kinks and each year they learn something new to develop for the next. 

Harris said they thought teachers would also enjoy getting items. 

They’ll  be receiving class materials and other items they can use for themselves, such as thermos, lunch totes, carrying cases, bluetooth speakers, fancy keychains and gadgets for their electronics. 

“Our teachers will also appreciate having extra supplies on hand to last throughout the school year as most teachers use personal funds to purchase supplies for students in need,” Meyer said.

This week, the supplies the couple have been collecting for the August distribution have been pulled out of the two storage units they rent and are sitting in virtually every corner of their home. 

Books, pencils, markers, folders, loose-leaf paper, trapper-keepers, backpacks, lunch boxes and a myriad of other items are stacked on the family’s kitchen counters, the front room, Harris’ mancave in the basement and in boxes in the garage. 

There’s so much stuff it’s hard to get around. 

Each day, with some music or a TV on in the background, the couple and other family members work like assembly line workers making ready the supplies that will go in each backpack and organize them by grade levels.

Harris said he’s so excited, he can’t sleep.  

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Yadira Sanchez Olson is a bilingual (Spanish/English) reporter who has covered Lake County, IL news and its impact on communities for more than a decade. She’s generated a strong collection of sources that are used daily to provide timely and accurate news that’s relevant for readers. She loves to find the positive side in stories and share helpful information that can make life just a little easier and sweeter!

Round Lake, IL
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