Backpack drive seeks to help hundreds of students

DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) - Melanie Schelling's name can be spotted across Decatur.

However being an insurance agent comes second to her favorite responsibility - being a mother. Schelling isn't just a biological mother, but she also is a foster parent.

That role is something Schelling says more people should consider.

"It's hard, but being a mom in general is hard," Schelling said. 

During her time as a foster parent, Schelling saw that there was a need to support other foster parents. She says even though foster parents get a stipend, it's not nearly enough to raise a child. Therefore, those back to school lists are a burden left on many foster parents.

This is the second year for the Schelling family's backpack drive. This year's goal is 200 bags. Right now the family raised a little more than 100 bags.

Being a foster family is something that affects every member. Ashley Schelling, Melanie's daughter, says being a foster sister is a great experience.

"We usually get someone middle-aged, so we're close in age and we just become best friends," Schelling said. "A lot of people don't like to think about kids in care or foster kids, and I totally get it because those kids have had a lot of trauma. When they are taken from the home it could be the middle of the night. They may not have anything in the home or the things they did have are left behind. This is their very own stuff."

Holly Newbon, the Director of Development at Webster Cantrell Hall, says drives like these are something foster care agencies rely on.

"So many children that are in foster care may feel like they don't matter or may not always have the tools they need to be prepared and be successful in school," she said. 

Melanie says the reactions are priceless.

"Seeing the kids with the smiles on their face when they get that brand new bag and knowing someone cares about them, that's what makes it worth it," she said.

That's why the Schelling family is this week's Spirit of Central Illinois recipient. 

The Schelling's are still collecting supplies to reach their goal. Anyone that wants to help contact Melanie Schelling should call (217) 876-8800. Attached is a list of school supplies that are needed in the bags. To nominate someone for the Spirit of Central Illinois award, email

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