MILWAUKEE — Dozens of families scored free school supplies at the annual Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center back-to-school event Thursday.
Kids could pick out whichever backpack they wanted, and inside they found plenty of new school supplies.
Organizers hope to help about 1,000 local students. The event also offered free haircuts, COVID-19 vaccines, health screenings and healthy meal prep tutorials. All tribal enrolled families could come by.
"It does help our families a lot," said Alicia Terry, the center's coordinator for behavioral health operations. "A lot of our families do enjoy this. It takes a load off them. They’re able to come get a backpack and a whole bunch of school supplies."
According to the National Retail Federation, families with school-age kids will spend about $850 on back-to-school items this year, which is about $60 more than 2020.
Parent Sarah Jackson said with four kids, the cost of supplies adds up quickly.
"For us to have an opportunity to give back, and have an opportunity for us to supply even the most basic of school supplies, that income for families, is difficult at this time. It’s important," said the center's CEO, Dr. Lyle Ignace.
Dr. Ignace said he recognizes parents can worry about back-to-school costs, as well as staying healthy in the pandemic. He's said he's seen more patients in for vaccines.
"People who were hesitant to get the vaccine before are now asking for the vaccine," Dr. Ignace said. "I have seen individuals today in my clinic who were really hesitant before and are now saying, 'when can I get on the list?' I think we’re seeing the devastation that it’s causing again, they’re more concerned now than they were last year."
Data shows more than 30 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds in Wisconsin have been fully vaccinated, as well as close to 40 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds.
The CDC suggests students wear masks in schools regardless.
"I believe they will have to wear masks, but the kids want to socialize, so we have to deal with it somehow," Jackson said.