PEORIA — While working on Mission Peoria two years ago, Sydney Sturm received a bracelet from a child during the week of volunteer activities around Peoria.
She still has the bracelet, and she's still volunteering.
"This year. it is awesome to be back and seeing everybody that was here in prior years," she said. "Seeing where they have been and what they have been up to and being able to just catch up.”
This year she and Ashley Seeley, both 20, are back and helping team leaders with their work. On Tuesday morning the two central Illinois residents were helping everyone find the correct gear — hoses, cleaning equipment and other items — to head out to one of 18 locations, from Midwest Food Bank to churches and not-for-profits, around the community during the week.
"Being a part of their lives and having them impact our lives, which all happens in a week, is insane," Seeley said of the interaction among the 300 teens and younger kids who are taking part.
Andy King, the executive director of Dream Center, said the group reached its maximum capacity for volunteers.
King says that in the beginning, the group started out with volunteers from three or four churches and now people from more than 40 churches participate in the event.
In the afternoon, attendees take part in other church-related activities like vacation Bible School. And each day's activities close out at 7 p.m. with presentations, music and other activities — open to the public — at Riverside Community Church.
The week wraps up with the Backpack Peoria giveaway from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Dream Center, where about 2,500 backpacks will be given away to area students. The first 750 attendees will also receive school uniform vouchers..
Kids using the materials must be present to receive them.
“People will need to get here early,” King said. “We’ve had people lined outside at 4:30 a.m. every year. We want kids to start well this year at school.”
The site will offer school registration for Peoria Public Schools students to ensure families are given ample time to sign up. King says he wants to avoid having kids show up to their school to find out they haven't registered and then have to be sent back home.