Arab woman’s goal is filling backpacks for students before school starts

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ARAB, ALA. - An Arab woman has one goal as school starts: make sure any child in need has the supplies he or she needs for school.

Jana Willis has already made a difference in several schools in two different counties, and she's doing everything in her power to make sure no child goes without.

"Help" is a word that means different things to people, depending on where they are in life. If you're living paycheck to paycheck, something as simple as buying school supplies can be a very real burden.

"My children are going to eat or I'm going to do school supplies," Willis said. "You have to make that decision because it's not there."

Willis says she was there years before.

"Being a single parent, having two kids going to get school supplies," she said. "Going through the register and not having money, and I have to leave the supplies."

Willis is now in a position to help others.

"That’s been on my heart," she said. "It’s a calling that stays on my heart, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons and it never goes away, and you have to have that to do God's work. And that’s the biggest reason, never forget where you came from."

She says it started with personal messages asking for help. She started a list of students in need and included their names, school, and grade level. Then she went to Walmart and got supply lists for each local school. When the list got too long to handle on her own, she reached out to the community to help meet the need.

"It's normal people who will call and say 'Hey Jana, here's $20. Go buy, I know that you need this,' and that’s what happens, and it's just grown to that and we are all blessed for it,” Willis said.

Willis says she has volunteers that come in and help pack backpacks, assembly line-style. The cost to buy supplies to fill a backpack is around $50. She says thanks to the community, 100 children will receive backpacks full of supplies.

"It does take a village and we don't want to leave out any child," she said.

And they are collecting more than just backpacks.

“Right now, we’ve got to get the backpacks packed and get them out, but we are also having to clothe people," Willis said. "I had a single mom yesterday say ‘I’ve got two children starting primary and they have no shoes,’ so once we get the backpacks I want to help them get clothes as well."

Willis says, unfortunately, so many parents take for granted the simple ability to provide for their children.

“If you go buy your child supplies, buy something extra," she said. "It's just a few dollars, but it can help other children who would otherwise go without."

Willis says if you want to help but don't have money, you can give your time -- packing bags and sorting items.

Drop off locations in Arab are at Darlene Shelton Insurance, Title Max and Deep South Mercantile.

For more information, contact Jana Willis at 256-673-0145.

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