A full backpack and an empty bank account

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It was a hot July morning. But that didn't seem to matter to the crowds of people lining up outside the Camino Community Center in North Charlotte. More than a thousand people stood and waited. Some of them had been there since six in the morning.

This was the 13th year Camino has hosted a Back to School Health Fair. The center and their community partners offer vaccines, physicals and backpacks full of school supplies. All of it is free of charge.

Rusty Price, president of Camino, says the need is always there. But it's highlighted at the start of every school year.

"Parents will come a lot of times with three, four, kids and that's a big expense for somebody that's living week to week," he said.

Alfreda Boger saw a post on Facebook about the health fair and hurried over. The price tag of sending her kids back to school is always a big one.

"They've been bringing me lists and I've been like, Oh my gosh. They have backpacks and they have school supplies," Boger said.

WBTV asked Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools how many of their children are living in poverty but they don't keep track anymore. So many kids qualify for free and reduced lunch the district switched to a universal lunch program in 2013.

Many of the families Camino serves are undocumented. In broken English, one woman introduced her children, all happy to have a new backpack thanks to Camino.

"Sometimes we don't have enough money," she said. "We are a big family".

The stories these families have are unimaginable to most.

"I was talking with this little boy and I said 'what to you want to be when you grow up?' He said 'I want to build houses.' I said, 'really? Why?' He said, 'because I want to build my family a house that no one can kick us out of'," Rusty told WBTV.

As the first day of school approaches, parents are not the only ones turning out their pockets. Teachers are also shelling out to get their classrooms ready.

Gaston County Science teacher Michelle Ellis shies away from the question of how much she spends.

"You lose track of how much money you spend. And in a way it feels good to lose track because you don't want to know how much you've invested," she said.

Christiana Kim has a similar mindset.

"I teach at a title one school so a lot of my students don't come in with pens, pencils, basic school supplies that you would expect them to have," Kim said.

Neither teacher complains about the expense. But they are thankful for places like Classroom Central. The non-profit in Charlotte offers certain teacher's school supplies free of charge.

Classroom Central's research found 64 percent of the children their teacher's serve come to school without the supplies they need to learn.

"What shopping here has allowed me to do is build a resource station where students don't have to ask me. They can just go and get a pencil or they can just go and get notebook paper," Kim said.

Not having is personal for Ellis.

"I was that kid. I was that kid who didn't have what they needed. Like, my mom buying notebook paper when I was in elementary was a sacrifice," she said.

Ellis has been teaching for 16 years. She says she's seen more and more kids need more and more help.

"It takes an emotional toll on you still because you hate to see people suffering for the very basic of things. There's actually more need than there was last year and the year before and the year before," she said.

Back at Camino, there were a lot of happy kids sporting brand new backpacks, but their parents were even happier.

"It's a burden lifted off my shoulder. Now that I know they got somethings to go back to school with," Boger said.

For more information about Camino Community Center, visit: http://caminocommunitycenter.org/.

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