Going off to college is as exciting as it is daunting for some students. While students across the country dread imminent math and science coursework, some are also worried if they’ll have enough printer paper, toilet tissue, and instant ramen to make it through the semester.

For 52 graduating seniors in East Garfield Park, the strain of college life was made lighter at the Breakthrough Trunk Party August 4.

A trunk party is a celebratory event where the network of a graduating student showers the student with gifts, donations, words of affirmation, and sound advice before they head off to college. It is a rite of passage for families that lack the resources to fully fund their child’s college experience. Breakthrough student Bre’jona Hutchinson dreamed up the concept of a community-wide trunk party and Breakthrough staff put her dream into motion.

At the trunk party, students and their families packed the FamilyPlex for a day centered on providing resources that will help power students’ academic success. A panel of college students and recent grads opened the event with advice on how to navigate the collegiate environment. The keynote speaker, Breakthrough Communications Coordinator DeMario Phipps-Smith, spoke about focusing on your journey and the impact of marrying one’s passion and talent.

Then, local students were ushered to the back of the gymnasium, where they were able to select items for their “trunk,” via a completely free shopping-style experience. Hundreds of various college necessities like trash cans, carpets, and shower caddies were donated to Breakthrough totaling $15,000 in donations. Many students said they saw the Trunk Party as a source of inspiration and proof that their community was invested in their academic success.

The location space was set up to mimic the design of a networking event so that the young students would be encouraged to mingle with guests and get some experience connecting with those outside of their support network. The catering for the Trunk Party was provided by Little Goat Diner in the West Loop, which included o’devours, lunch and cupcakes for the attendees.

“The gifts and support that I receive at Breakthrough Trunk Party will not only provide me with the necessities to begin college,” Crystal Montgomery, 19, said. “But these gifts will be a constant reminder of the community of people that are behind me while I continue on this next chapter of my life.”

Breakthrough Senior Director Marcie Curry said the students will face many challenges during their college careers but hopes that they feel supported and inspired by the community to push through the difficult times.

“To be able to provide our future leaders with not only the physical items to transition to college dorm life but also the emotional support to know that their community believes in them was a highlight for me. Leaving East Garfield Park for college is both a blessing and a great challenge. We pray that these college students will always know they have the love and support of their Breakthrough community. The Trunk Party was a tangible way to express that love to them.”

To view a gallery of the Trunk Party photos, click here.