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WATERLOO — Volunteers gathered at Lou Henry Elementary Thursday to prepare for an annual school supply distribution effort.

The Cedar Valley Back to School Project provides backpacks filled with all the items on the school supply list for underprivileged elementary school students.

Supplies will be distributed from noon to 7 p.m. Thursday in the school’s gymnasium at 312 Rachael St. It is only open to families who signed up in July.

“This year, we are serving 1,000-plus elementary students from Waterloo, Cedar Falls, and Waverly public schools,” said Kelsey Hammer-Parks, chairwoman of the Cedar Valley Jaycees committee responsible for organizing the event. About 100 volunteers have helped out so far.

In existence for 25 years, the project was directed by Ruth and Larry Orth until they retired last summer and is now being led by the Jaycees. Over the years, it has served 49,397 students, including those receiving supplies multiple years. Major funders for the Back to School Project are the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa and the R.J. McElroy Trust, who awarded grants to purchase the supplies.

“It is amazing how the community came together to support this important project,” said Hammer-Parks. “John Deere, through their WomenREACH program, supplied amazing volunteers who made the packing portion go even faster than we anticipated. The Waterloo Schools Foundation helped with writing grants and creating processes to streamline supply distribution. The Waterloo Warehouse generously stored and delivered the supplies to Lou Henry Elementary School.

“Without all of these partners and many other supporters, the JCI Cedar Valley would not have been able to facilitate this project,” she added. “I’m proud to live in the Cedar Valley where the community comes together to support important projects such as this.”

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