Donors help needy get ready for school year
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com August 8, 2013 8:40PM
Sophia Baer, 13, of Homer Glen, helped organize and hand out supplies during Together We Cope's annual Back-to-School program. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2013 6:22AM
Gathering supplies for a new school year is an exciting end-of-summer ritual.
But when a family is struggling financially, it quickly can become a stressor, too.
Jill Kallas has six children who range in grade level from first grade to high school.
“That’s a lot of supplies,” she said.
Too many for the Tinley Park resident, who was laid off recently.
Kallas’ children were among 1,500 kids to receive new backpacks and school supply kits donated by supporters of Together We Cope, a nonprofit agency based in Tinley Park that assists families from 22 Southland communities who are in temporary crisis.
The school-supply giveaway is an annual program at the agency.
“It is totally self-sustaining,” spokeswoman Marge Seltzner said. “We sent notes to all of the people who donated over the past year and asked for $20 donations to buy school supplies.”
The response was tremendous, she said, as more than 100 people sent checks. That money was enough to buy 1,500 supply kits that included pencils, folders, markers and other necessities. A separate anonymous donation was large enough to pay for all of the backpacks,
“A lot of our donors believe education is the path for people in need,” Seltzner said. “It’s important to keep kids excited about school.”
Jo Ann Hillblom, of Mokena, was among the many volunteers who helped organize and hand out the supplies.
“Back-to-school is such an important time for families,” she said. “If I couldn’t give my kids the supplies they needed, I’d be devastated. Kids just expect mom and dad to supply things.”
Hillblom has been volunteering at Together We Cope for more than two years.
“Why do I do it? Because there is such a need,” she said.
She recalled one woman who recently brought her small daughter into the agency’s food pantry just before closing time.
“When the little girl, I think she was about 4, walked into the room she said, ‘Look, Mommy — food,’ ” Hillblom said. “These people are not numbers, they are people, people who live right here in our community.”
Sophia Baer, 13, of Homer Glen, also helped to hand out supplies. She carefully considered each of the request forms, which included grade-level and gender information on the recipients, when choosing the color of a backpack or lunch box.
“I try to think, if I were that kid, what would I like,” she said.
Josh White, 15, a student at Sandburg High School, volunteered to help because he’s trying to amass 125 hours of community service to put him in the running for his school’s President Award. He’s also volunteered at Lake Katherine Nature Preserve in Palos Heights and at the Orland Township office.
“It looks good for college, and it always makes you feel better about yourself,” Josh said. “Yesterday, a girl got a backpack and walked back here to say thank you to us volunteers. It made me feel really good.”
Kallas walked into Together We Cope on Wednesday, accompanied by her 6-year-old son, Vincent. She walked out, teary eyed, with backpacks and supply kits for each of her children.
“This means the world to me,” she said. “It means the world to my kids, too.”
Together We Cope, 17010 Oak Park Ave., also is taking donations for next year’s back-to-school campaign. For more information, visit togetherwecope.com or call (708) 633-5040.